Comet PANSTARRS dazzles in the evening sky

Comet PANSTARRS is putting on a nice show in the evening sky. Even though it is located low in the west and is definitely affected by the brightness of the twilight sky, many observers have been able to spot it with the naked eye and small binoculars. My magnitude estimates place the comet around magnitude +1.5. This agrees with estimates made by other observers from around the world.

Here in Tucson, I first saw the comet on Sunday night. Though I first spotted it in 10×50 binoculars I was able to see it, with difficulty, with the naked eye. On Tuesday and Wednesday evening, the comet was much easier to see. Here in Tucson we are blessed with dry, clear skies so I the comet was relatively easy to spot with the naked eye.

On Tuesday night, a thin crescent Moon was located only a few degrees to the right of the comet. Salvador Aguirre of Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico imaged the pair. His image comes very close to matching what the comet and Moon looked like to the naked eye. Note that the comet really only looks like a faint star with a hint of a tail. And this is under dry clear Sonoran skies. Anyone observing from locations with any amount of humidity and/or smog will have a much harder time to see the comet. This is why binoculars are a must for finding and enjoying the comet.

Image of Comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) and the crescent Moon on the evening of March 12 from Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. Credit: Salvador Aguirre.


The following image was taken on the same night as Salvador’s by Bob Lunsford from Chula Vista, CA. This view closely matches what the comet looks like in small binoculars.


Image of Comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) and the crescent Moon on the evening of March 12 from Chula Vista, CA, USA. Credit: Bob Lunsford.


The view of the comet gets better in a telescope. Salvador also acquired a movie of the comet as it set through his telescope.



I was able to get a few images of the comet through my 12″ dobsonian. Unfortunately the telescope doesn’t have a tracking mount so I had to obtain a hundred or so very short exposures and co-add them.




The comet is slowly moving higher in the sky every night. This should make the comet easier to see though the comet will also start to fade as it moves away from the Sun. Also the Moon will start to become a problem as it gets brighter. For those who want to observe the comet please see Bob King’s finder charts at his Astro Bon blog.

Welcome to 2013!

2013 promises to be another great year for observers of the Transient Sky! Right now, it looks like we will have not one, not two but possibly three naked eye comets [C/2011 L4 (Panstarrs), C/2012 F6 (Lemmon), C/2012 S1 (ISON)] including one that may turn out to be a Great Comet [C/2012 S1 (ISON)]. The Perseid Meteors of August will be observable under dark Moon-less skies. Also the small asteroid 2012 DA14 will fly past the Earth at an incredibly close distance of 21,000 miles or 1/10th the distance to the Moon on Feb 15.

Doug Snyder of the Huachuca Astronomy Club (HAC) has created a very handy single page summary of 2013. His 2013 sky calendar can be downloaded from the HAC site here.

Another useful list of 2013 sky events can be found at the Astro Guyz blog.