Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Observing Comet PanSTARRS

Comet PanSTARRS viewed from Gate's Pass near Tucson, AZ, image credit & copyright: Janine Pforr
In the last post, we gave you some background on comets and highlighted a few of the more suspected-to-be-spectacular comets visible this year. Last night, a few colleagues and I went to a nearby viewpoint, to do some comet PanSTARRS viewing. 

Comet PanSTARRS
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mage credit & copyright: Janine Pforr

We chose Gate's Pass near Tucson, which regularly offers a great view of the sunset and a brilliant night sky when it's clear. We arrived shortly after the sun had set (around 6:30 pm) and the sky was still a beautiful yellow, orange and red. Clearly, other people had the same idea - the viewpoint was filled with spectators equipped with cameras,  tripods, and binoculars, ready to spot the comet. We waited anxiously after reports from colleagues who were not able to see comet PanSTARRS at all the evening before and some who said they only saw it with binoculars. Around 7pm I heard the first people say that they spotted it in their binoculars. After a couple of test pictures and asking others for the exact comet location, we saw it, too! Once we knew where to look, even with the naked eye, we could just about see it. The comet started being visible above the horizon near where the sun had set. With the camera it was a bit easier because of the longer exposures. We were all happy that we could actually see it and now also have picture-proof. We watched the comet set slowly following the sun for about 30 minutes (see video).  

video
Time lapse video of Comet PanSTARRS setting at Gates Pass in Tucson, Arizona. Image credit and copyright: Janine Pforr. You can find a higher resolution of this video on our Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/candels.collaboration


If you are planning to go out and watch comet PanSTARRS, today is probably your best chance as comet PanSTARRS is expected to get a little bit brighter still. The best time to look is about 40 minutes after the sun has set. However, I do recommend to take binoculars with you, or a small telescope, to get a closer up view! We hope you enjoy the sight and would love to hear about your viewing experiences. Over the next few weeks, the comet will get fainter and further away from the sun. This will make it harder to see with the naked eye, but easier to see with a telescope. Some observatories, such as Kitt Peak, will have special events for viewing the comet.

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