Comet Pan-STARRS Passing Close To Earth, Will Soon Be Visible

A comet that was only recently discovered is making a very close approach to Earth and the Sun, and will soon be visible in the Northern Hemisphere:

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A recently discovered comet is closer than it’s ever been to Earth, and stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere finally get to see it.

Called Pan-STARRS, the comet passed within 100 million miles of Earth on Tuesday, its closest approach in its first-ever cruise through the inner solar system. The ice ball will get even nearer the sun this weekend — just 28 million miles from the sun and within the orbit of Mercury.

The comet has been visible for weeks from the Southern Hemisphere. Now the top half of the world gets a glimpse as well.

The best viewing days should be next Tuesday and Wednesday, when Pan-STARRS appears next to a crescent moon at dusk in the western sky. Until then, glare from the sun will obscure the comet.

California astronomer Tony Phillips said the comet’s proximity to the moon will make it easier for novice sky watchers to find it. Binoculars likely will be needed for the best viewing, he said, warning onlookers to avoid pointing them at the setting sun.

“Wait until the sun is fully below the horizon to scan for the comet in the darkening twilight,” Phillips advised in an email sent from his home and observatory in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Pan-STARRS’ name is actually an acronym for the Hawaiian telescope used to spot it two years ago: the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System. The volcano-top telescope is on constant prowl for dangerous asteroids and comets that might be headed our way.

A comet this easily visible from Earth is a rare event indeed, so don’t pass up a chance to check it out if you can.

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, Science & Technology
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Looking forward to it. The last good one was app 12-13 yrs ago (forget the name—help anyone?) and it was quite extraordinary with the tail not just visible but extravagant. I remember one (winter?) night in Arkansas coming out of a cave after night fall with all the stars as sharp and close you could almost touch them and then there was that comet….

  2. swbarnes2 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Hale-Bopp. It was big, that’s why it was so visible. Hyakutake was earlier that winter, it was visible because it came so close, but it was a lot smaller than Hale-Bopp.

  3. swbarnes2 says:

    Oh, and Shoemaker-Levi 9 might have been the year prior. Big couple of years there for comets.