PANSTARRS Is Here, Comet Is At Its Closest Distance To The Earth Today, Will Continue Brightening
Comet Pan-STARRS made its closest approach to the Earth today, coming as close as 100 million miles from us. Which is pretty close for an object which has spent the last 100,000 or so years way out towards the edges of the solar system, far past Pluto. Panstarrs will make its closest approach to the Sun (perihelion) on March 10th. It will continue brightening for the next week or so, peaking for those in the Northern Hemisphere around March 12th.
Comet PANSTARRS has actually brightened considerably over the past week, and is now set to fulfill the original predictions made about it. So it should put on a good show for those with a clear view of the horizon. It’s already easy to find in the sky from those in many regions of the Southern Hemisphere. And will become visible to those in the Northern Hemisphere on March 7th. It will be visible towards the west-southwest horizon for about an hour after sunset. For more information on specifics, see: Comet Panstarrs, Where and When to See Comet In March.
Because of how erratically the comet has been behaving, it’s still somewhat up in the air how bright it will peak at. The comet expert John E. said: “Pan-STARRS has behaved so strangely up to this point that I would not completely discount anything; with perihelion passage so close now, I am anticipating the maximum brightness reached by the comet as between +1 and +1.3.”
Which would make the comet about as bright, or more so, than any star in the sky. But rather than being simply a star, it should possess a visible tail, made of the material that the Sun is blasting off of it.
Bottle continued: “This, of course, does not negate an outside possibility of the comet perhaps continuing to brighten for some days past perihelion.”
Another comet, Comet Lemmon, is also currently visible in the skies of the Southern Hemisphere, as the photo at top shows. That comet will continue brightening until March 24th.