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by Bob Everoski
Comet Panstarrs has arrived
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By Bob Everoski
Feb. 12, 2013 5:31 p.m.

On June 7, 2011, a new comet was discovered in the constellation of Scorpio, the Scorpion at the University of Hawaii Observatory. The new comet was given the name of Panstarrs.

If the comet lives up to current predictions, its brightness should increase over the next several weeks reaching its peak on March 9. By the end of April, it will disappear from naked eye visibility.

Comets, however, are very unpredictable when it comes to brightness estimates. In 1974, Comet Kohoutek was labeled to be the comet of the century, and, perhaps, be bright enough to be seen in broad daylight. However, the comet fizzled in brightness, and barely made it to naked eye visibility.

Currently, Comet Panstarrs is located near the constellation of Sagittarius, the Archer. However, it very slowly moves in position on a daily basis. It is now at the threshold of visibility to the unaided eye. A pair of binoculars or a telescope at a very low power would give a better view.

For best results, dress warmly, and drive out in the country away from city lights where the sky is darker making it easier to see dimmer celestial objects. Look about 15 degrees above the horizon in the southeast about 6:00 A.M. This is where the constellation of Sagittarius and the approximate location of the comet will be about this time. Remember, if you hold your fist out at arm’s length, the distance between the lower and upper part of your fist measures about 10 degrees.

Comet Panstarrs will appear as a fuzzy looking star with a tail. It will remain an early morning object until the end of February when it will be lost in the glare of the Sun from our line of sight here on the Earth. It will then be visible low in the southwest after sunset in early March. A clear view of the western sky is important, however, as the comet will only be about 10 degrees or so above the horizon.

On March 5, the comet will be at its closest point to the Earth or about 101.4 million miles away. Then on March 9, it will be only about 29 million miles from the Sun. At this time, Comet Panstarrs will be at its brightest.

A comet is basically a large dirty snowball with a rock at its center. The majority of most comets are peanut or potato shaped with their long axis no more than several miles in diameter. The nucleus of the comet is made up of porous rock and dust. Surrounding the nucleus is water ice and carbon dioxide ice.

As the comet gets closer and closer to the Sun, the ice melts, and vaporizes. The coma of a comet consists of the nucleus surrounded by its vaporized gases and dust particles. The Sun then blows these gas and dust particles away from the comet. As a result, a gas and dust tail is formed. A comet’s tail almost always points away from the direction of the Sun. However, some comets display anti-tails.

 

 

Nasa video on the comet: Here

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