Skygazers can look forward to spotting PANSTARR comet

Last Updated: Friday, March 8, 2013 - 18:15

Kolkata: Skygazers will have something to look forward to this weekend as also the beginning of the coming week with a comet becoming visible to the naked eye from the northern hemisphere just after sundown.

If one has a clear western horizon, one can locate the Comet-C/2011 L4, sometimes called PANSTARR after the telescope that was used to discover it two years back, with the naked eyes or wide-field binoculars just after sunset when it is near perihelion, point of closest approach to sun.

Favourable dates start from March 9, said Debiprosad Duari, director, Research and Academic, M.P. Birla Institute of Fundamental Research, in a release here.

PANSTARRS is a non-periodic comet discovered in June 2011 using the Pan-STARRS telescope located near the summit of Haleakala on the island of Maui in Hawaii.

A comet is a dust filled big chuck of ice generally formed in the outer periphery of the solar system. They are also referred to as dirty snowballs.

On March 10, it will have its closest approach to the sun i.e., at its perihelion.

As the comet passes the sun, solar glare might make it difficult to see even as the icy nucleus vaporises and brightens.

By March 12 and 13, the comet will be seen in the sunset skies of the northern hemisphere not far from the crescent Moon.

From Indian latitudes, March 10 will be a good time to look for the comet, which should be visible, and be at its brightest.

"This is because the comet passes closest to the sun -- as close as our sun`s innermost planet, Mercury, about 45 million km away -- on March 10. Comets are typically brightest and most active around the time they are closest to the sun when solar heating vaporises ice and dust from the comet`s outer crust.

"The comet should brighten quickly around this time. One should look for it low in the west after sunset. Bring binoculars to help you spot it in the twilight sky," said Duari.

Around March 12 and 13, despite some interference due to moonlight, the comet is likely to provide great photo opportunities near a thin crescent moon, in the west just after sunset.

Through March, the comet could be visible in the Northern Hemisphere evening sky low in the west after sunset.

It will move northward each evening during March 2013. At this time, the comet might have a bright dust tail, and perhaps be visible to the unaided eye or binoculars.

The comet, which is coming to the inner solar system for the first time, have led astronomers to deduce that it probably took millions of years to come from the Oort cloud, a region at the outer limit of the solar system, wherefrom long-period comets (period more than 200 years) originate.

After leaving the planetary region of the Solar System, the comet may again come back after about 106,000 years or may not appear again at all.

"So, this is the chance for human beings to observe this unknown member of the solar system which contains material which formed when the solar system was in its nascent stage," he said.


First Published: Friday, March 8, 2013 - 18:14
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