Spectacular Sky Show of Bright Comet PANSTARRS

A year from now, it is possible that “comet fever” will be running high when a newfound comet emerges into view in the evening sky.

But while some scientists have high hopes for a spectacular 2013 sky show by the comet, it is still far from certain. When astronomers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa announced last June that they had discovered the new comet, it was a distant and inconspicuous object. But preliminary calculations at once made it clear that this new object had the potential to become a naked-eye object of considerable interest for skywatching enthusiasts in the Northern Hemisphere. The comet may ultimately shine as bright as some of the brightest stars in the night sky, but will likely pale in comparison to the brilliant planet Venus. The comet was called C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS). The comet PANSTARRS was initially photographed on June 6 and was confirmed the following day. Actually, the comet had been unknowingly imaged nearly two weeks earlier, on May 24 from Arizona’s Mount Lemmon Observatory. Astronomers expect the comet‘ visit on March 9, 2013. The comet PANSTARRS will pass to within 28 million miles (45 million kilometers) of the sun on that date. Such an enormous change in solar distance would cause a typical comet to increase in brightness dramatically. And indeed, the comet has responded to the increasing solar warmth as it has approached the sun. On February 13, the comet had increased in brightness by more than 60 times since it was first seen last June. The comet PANSTARRS still has a long way to go, it’s still over 500 million miles (820 million km) from both the sun and Earth, out near the orbit of Jupiter. But it still appears on target to possibly become a bright naked eye object by this time next year.