Comet C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS has been wowing observers in the southern hemisphere recently and there have been some fantastic images taken of it. So when do we in Armagh get a chance to see this visitor from the Oort Cloud? The answer is next week!

image of Panstarrs position

Looking west from Armagh at 7.15 pm on 14 March 2013. The comet’s position is marked with an ‘X’. (Image credit: Colin Johnston/Armagh Planetarium.Stellarium)


Comet PANSTARRS reaches perihelion, its closest approach to the Sun on 10 March, after this it will start to move away from the Sun and to be visible in the twilight sky to observers in the northern hemisphere. It will appear as a faint elongated ‘smudge’ hanging low  in the sky (note comets do not zoom across the sky) and may be tricky to find as even half an hour after sunset the sky will still be very bright. You will need to find a relatively clear and unobstructed horizon.

On 12 and 13 March it will be seen in the western twilight not far from the crescent Moon.  You can use the Moon to find it. On 12 March the comet will be to the Moon’s upper left. On 13 March, the comet will be to the Moon’s lower right. The head of the comet has not been visible to the unaided eye,  to find and get a good view of the tail you will need binoculars or a small telescope. BE VERY CAREFUL USING BINOCULARS OR A TELESCOPE IF THE SUN IS STILL IN THE SKY! On successive nights this week the comet will continue to be visible but will be further from the Moon.

image of COMET with MOON

UPDATE: Terence Murtagh, a former director of Armagh Planetarium, has knindly shared a couple of his images of the comet taken in the USA. This one was taken on 12 March. (Image credit: Terence Murtagh)

image of comet and butte

Another image by Terence Murtagh shows the comet over a butte. (Image credit: Terence Murtagh)

At 7.15 on 13 March I observed the comet with a pair of 7×50 binoculars. It was a very faint and delicate white ‘feather’ against a deep golden sky.  It took quite some effort to find even with binoculars and I could not see it at all without them. This is not a spectacular object by any means but it still worth finding so pretty a sight.

Hopefully spotting PANSTARRS will be great practice for finding Comet ISON in the autumn!

(Article by Colin Johnston, Armagh Planetarium)


Pete · March 13, 2013 at 17:25

btw, the headline in the Evening Express was ‘Mystery object spotted in the sky over Aberdeen’ – to which some wag has replied, ‘The Sun?’

    admin · March 13, 2013 at 20:59

    Thanks, that’s very interesting…but I don’t think it’s the comet. I’ve just seen it and it’s very faint and not orange. I’m 99% certain the picture at is an aircraft contrail illuminated by the setting Sun.

    What does everyone else think?

      Pete · March 13, 2013 at 22:54

      The following was snapped by another observer in the same area tonight (13th)

      I had a look – clear skies just before sunset and then a snowstorm rolled across – I gave up at 1900 just as the sky was clearing again, thinking it would have set, but our friend in the link above seems to have captured his image later – drat!

Pete · March 13, 2013 at 17:11

It appears to have been seen in Aberdeen yesterday (Tue 12th) – looked quite spectacular on the front page of the local paper with just an amateur camera phone snap – look forward to having a look this evening

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