HOLD FOR TARIQ - Comet Pan-STARRS to Dazzle this Weekend
A comet that just made its way into the Northern Hemisphere will be at its brightest this weekend.
On Sunday (March 10), Comet Pan-STARRS is expected to make its closest approach to the sun, potentially making the comet shine even more brilliantly when it appears at twilight low in the western sky.
"It will appear in the west at sunset, from around the 8th to the 13th of March 2013, and will be visible to the naked eye up to the end of the month: comet Pan-STARRS C/2011 L4 will traverse Cetus, Pisces, Pegasus and Andromeda," Observatoire de Paris officials wrote in a statement of the comet's expected path through the sky.
Pan-STARRS made its way into the inner solar system from the Oort Cloud — a group of icy bodies orbiting the sun from up to 93 trillion miles (150 trillion kilometers) away. The comet will pass about 28 million miles (45 million km) from the sun during its close approach.
The comet made its closest pass with the Earth on Tuesday (March 5) when it flew by at about 102 million miles (164 million km) from the planet. [Comet Pan-STARRS in Night Sky Explained (Infographic)]
Although Pan-STARRS might start dimming after Sunday, that doesn't mean that skywatchers should put away their binoculars yet. On March 12 and 13, the comet will appear close to the moon, possibly even silhouetting it according to Geoff Gaherty of Starry Night Education.
There are even skywatching opportunities in April. On April 3, the comet should be in the same part of the sky as the Andromeda Galaxy. Although the comet won't still be visible with the naked eye, stargazers with telescopes could still get a nice view of the comet and galaxy, Gaherty added.
Pan-STARRS has already put on a show for skywatchers in the Southern Hemisphere. The comet was photographed with another southern comet named Lemmon.
Later this year, another comet from the Oort Cloud could be the brightest comet to pass by the Earth in a generation. Comet ISON is expected to outshine every comet in recent memory when it appears in the sky sometime in November.
Editor's note: If you snap an amazing photo of Comet Pan-STARRS in the night sky, or any other celestial object, and you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please send images and comments, including location information, to managing editor Tariq Malik at email@example.com.
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