In the past weeks, Comet Pan-STARRS has been visible from the southern hemisphere. After passing closest to the Sun on Sunday (March 10), Comet Pan-STARRS is on track for a potentially spectacular night sky display in the March twilight sky.
On Wednesday (March 13), the Hilltopper Astronomy Club will host a star party for anyone interested in an opportunity to observe Comet Pan-STARRS. Join this local organization of amateur astronomers and faculty from WKU’s Department of Physics & Astronomy in the lobby of Thompson Complex Center Wing, at the corner of State Street and College Heights Boulevard in Bowling Green. The viewing opportunity starts at 7 p.m., shortly after sunset, and is free to the public.
On March 13 Comet Pan-STARRS will not be far from the crescent Moon, providing a photogenic pairing of celestial objects in the darkening sky. Although it is never a sure thing to try to predict how a first-visit comet will behave, Comet Pan-STARRS could be as bright as the brighter stars in the sky. The comet should be easily visible with binoculars, and possibly to the naked eye, in the western sky within 45 minutes of sunset.
Comet Pan-STARRS, known officially as comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS), was discovered in June 2011 by astronomers using the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System, or Pan-STARRS telescope, in Hawaii. It is considered a non-periodic comet, one that may have never passed near the Sun before and may not do so again for more than 100,000 years. Comet Pan-STARRS is distinct from Comet ISON, coming this November, a comet that is tentatively predicted to be much brighter.
Throughout March 2013 the comet could be visible in the evening sky low in the west after sunset. Information about viewing the comet in March and even April is available on many websites dedicated to stargazing, including Sky & Telescope: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/home/185665152.html.
The Hilltopper Astronomy Club and the WKU Department of Physics & Astronomy host free public telescope viewings at 7 p.m. (or a half hour past sunset, whichever is later) on the second Wednesday of every month from August through May.
Contact: Dr. Richard Gelderman at (270) 745-6203.