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Comet Pan-STARRS in Night Sky Explained (Infographic)

Infographic: Comet Pan-STARRS shines in Earth's sky in March, 2013
A fresh visitor from the icy Oort Cloud at the edge of the solar system, Comet Pan-STAARS brightens Earth's sky in March, 2013. (Image credit: Karl Tate, Space.com Infographics Artist)

Named after the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii, Comet Pan-STARRS (also known as C/2011 L4) is thought to be a fresh comet from the outer reaches of the solar system making one of its first passes through the inner solar system. The comet makes its closest approach to the sun on March 10, 2013. 

In March, the comet is seen in the western sky around sunset in the northern hemisphere.

Comet Pan-STARRS makes its closest approach to Earth on March 5, when it will be about 100 million miles away (161 million kilometers).

The Earth's solar system is surrounded by a giant cloud of icy debris that extends to a distance of  nearly 1 light-year. This cloud is the source of long-period comets (comets with orbital periods of 200 years to millions of years).

Comet Pan-STARRS is thought to have an orbital period of approximately 110,000 years.

Astronomers first spotted the comet in June 2011 with the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) telescope, in Hawaii.

The comet will be seen very close to the horizon during its week of closest approach to the Earth and sun. Later in the month the comet will be visible higher in the sky as it speeds away from the sun, growing dimmer with distance.

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Karl Tate
Karl's association with SPACE.com goes back to 2000, when he was hired to produce interactive Flash graphics. Starting in 2010, Karl has been TechMediaNetwork's infographics specialist across all editorial properties.  Before joining SPACE.com, Karl spent 11 years at the New York headquarters of The Associated Press, creating  news graphics for use around the world in newspapers and on the web.  He has a degree in graphic design from Louisiana State University. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Karl on Google+.