Have you seen spectacular Comet PANSTARRS yet? No? Well, today could be your day to see the comet, albeit virtually, as the Virtual Telescope will be streaming a live broadcast from Italy this afternoon, weather-permitting, of course.
So, how to see the comet?
To see Comet PANSTARRS, simply go to the Virtual Telescope's website and wait for the appointed time. Additionally, space.com will also have a live feed on its website. Hopefully, the sky will cooperate this time around as the webcast had to be canceled yesterday due to clouds! The webcast is s et to start at 1pm EDT.
As for the comet itself, PANSTARRS was at perihelion, which is a fancy way of saying that it was at the point in its orbit closest to the Sun, this past weekend. So, with the comet being so close to the Sun it will be exposed to the greatest amount of heat, which will cause the icy comet to melt, brighten, and grow the distinctive cometary tail. Result: the comet is a sight to behold.
Just a month ago, PANSTARRS was still outside of naked eye visibility and behind previous brightness estimates. However, in the past two weeks, the comet has brightened to around zero magnitude, grown a tail, and become a relatively easy target for binocular (and even naked eye provided you have good eyesight) observation.
So, how does one go about seeing the comet?
Since Daylight Savings Time has returned, the best time to look for Comet PANSTARRS is between 8:00 and 8:30pm, which is the narrow window of time where the sky is dark enough to see the comet before it sets. To find the comet, go outside and look due West about 5 degrees above the horizon. For a comparison, hold three fingers out at arm's length to simulate 5 angular degrees. Another tip: if you have binoculars, use them to scan the sky and pick up the comet, then try and spot it with the naked eye.
As always, be sure to keep an eye on the local weather forecast for cloud predictions..
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Bodzash Photography & Astronomy