We are, the people of Earth, currently in the midst of an exceeding exciting intra-solar event: The coming of Comet Pan-STARRS. Fortunately, the comet's perihelion to the Sun was close enough to cause it flare brilliantly for our viewing pleasure. And through the visual magic of time-lapse, the progress of the comet has been captured in what looks like a steady movement down the twilit sky.
In a video posted on CNN on Thursday (March 14), Comet Pan-STARRS, the first of two "Great Comets" that are forecast to grace our skies in 2013, moves from the top of the video to just below mid-point in a fluid motion, its descent accompanied by an also descending crescent moon.
The video was taken in Atlanta, Georgia, home to CNN headquarters.
It was not at first known if Comet Pan-STARRS would be a "Great Comet," a name bestowed upon comets that put on a spectacular show and can be seen with the naked eye. Although its course was plotted and it was thought that the comet would blaze a trail that would be seen in Earth's night sky, such forecasts had been made before and had not panned out, like in 2011 when Comet Elenin made a pass. Also heralded as a doomsday comet, Elenin turned out to be neither great nor dooming.
But Pan-STARRS is only the first "Great Comet" set to pass Earth this year. Comet ISON, which is also a sun-grazer (passes close to the Sun), is scheduled to give an even more spectacular show than Comet Pan-STARRS. Coming much nearer to the Sun (just 800,000 miles above the Sun's surface), ISON, on its pass back toward the outer reaches of the Solar System, is slated to light the sky in November and December. It is being hailed as the "Comet of the Century."
Pan-STARRS was only discovered last March. It was given the name of the telescope which first captured its image, the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System in Hawaii.