Comet PANSTARRS is now at what is very likely its peak brightness, though over the next few days the comet will rise higher into the sunset sky, making it easier to see. And beginning on March 12th the comet will be closely accompanied by a crescent moon.
The comet should remain visible to the naked eye for a week or so, possibly longer, and will remain visible with the use of binoculars well into April.
Panstarrs is currently visible very low on the western horizon, around sunset. But there is a relatively short period of time to see the comet every-night because of how low on the horizon that it is. Though as stated above that will continue to improve over the next few days. For specifics see: Comet Panstarrs, Where and When To See Comet In March
“Look too early and the sky will be too bright,” said Rachel Stevenson, a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Look too late, the comet will be too low and obstructed by the horizon. This comet has a relatively small window.”
Around 40 minutes or so after sunset is considered to be probably the best time to see it. “The comet may appear as a sort of exclamation point in the evening sky, with the point being the comet itself and its diffuse tail stretching nearly straight up from the horizon, JPL officials added.”
“Comet Pan-STARRS, officially known as comet C/2011 L4 Pan-STARRS, was discovered in June 2011 by astronomers using the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (or PAN-STARRS), a telescope atop the Haleakala volcano in Hawaii. The comet takes more than 100 million years to orbit the sun and appears to come from the Oort cloud, a vast halo of comets and icy objects at the outer edge of the solar system.”
“As it continues its nightly trek across the sky, the comet may get lost in the sun’s glare but should return and be visible to the naked eye by March 12,” JPL officials explained. “As time marches on in the month of March, the comet will begin to fade away slowly, becoming difficult to view (even with binoculars or small telescopes) by month’s end.”
For those in the Southern Hemisphere, Comet Lemmon C/2012 F6 is currently visible, and is putting on a pretty good show. Earlier this month, Comet Lemmon and Comet Pan-STARRS were actually visible in the sky at the same time, making for a very rare sight.
Later this year a much brighter comet, Comet ISON, will be visible beginning around mid-November. It’s been described as potentially being “The Comet of the Century”, and as bright as the full Moon.
Image Credits: Astronomy Education Services/Gingin Observatory