The first of two bright comets predicted for 2013 will soon be appearing in the evening sky for observers in the Northern Hemisphere. The comet — while not as bright as first predicted — will still be more brilliant than any comet seen in recent years, so here are some tips to spot the celestial wanderer. The Comet Pan-STARRS, known officially as C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) will be readily visible with the unaided eye, though binoculars will be a help for spotting it against the twilight sky….
After months appearing in the Southern Hemisphere night sky, Comet Pan-STARRS will make its first appearance in the Northern Hemisphere sky on Thursday (March 7)….
To see the comet, look for it in the west, just to the left of the point on your horizon where the sun sets, shortly after sunset beginning in the next few days…. If this advice sounds a little vague, it is because comets are slightly unpredictable, in particular their brightness. Also, observing locations vary widely in their suitability to observe objects close to the sun. Try to find a site with a very low western horizon to improve your chances of catching sight of the comet early….
Comet Pan-STARRS will be at its brightest on Sunday (March 10) when it makes its closest approach to the sun. At that time the comet will be about 28 million miles (45 million km) from the sun — a bit closer to the star than Mercury, which will be about 37 million miles (60 million km) from the sun….
We are used to comets being named for their discoverers, but in recent years there have been many comets discovered by teams rather than individuals. When first discovered, comets are assigned unique designations based on the year and month of their discovery. For Comet Pan-STARRS, that designation is C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS)….
There is also a name in parentheses indicating the discoverer. In this case, the comet was discovered by a team project named PANSTARRS, short for Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, which actively searches for asteroids and comets using a telescope in Hawaii. The problem with this name is that the PANSTARRS project has so far discovered a number of comets, which makes this only one of quite a few “Comets PANSTARRS” in the sky.