Science News

Mar 6, 2013 5:59 PM

Kentuckians Expected To See Bright Comet March 12th, 13th

A newly discovered comet is about to get as close to Earth as it's ever been, and stargazers in the northern hemisphere will be able to see it. That means us.

The story from the heavens lately has been snow, but snow isn't the only icy matter we'll be seeing in the sky.

"They're actually very beautiful. They move from night to night, and one of the most important things is they're unpredictable," says Tim Knauer, the Director of the Student Observatory at the University of Kentucky.

The Pan-STARRS comet has been seen in the southern hemisphere for weeks. Now the northern hemisphere will get a chance to see the comet, which is essentially a huge mass of ice. Knauer says it should be visible with the naked eye at dusk next to the crescent moon on March 12th and 13th. Though you may need to get away from city lights to see it best.

"Look in the direction where the sun has set. A pair of binoculars will help if you are very careful not to look at the setting sun," says Knauer.

The Pan-STARRS comet passed within 100 million miles of the earth Tuesday. In cosmos speak, that's close. This weekend it will pass 28 million miles from the Sun, which is within the orbit of Mercury. It's an exciting time for astronomers as another even brighter comet is expected to appear around November.

"They're somewhat rare. Naked eye comets come around once or twice a decade," says Knauer.

So whether you're an expert stargazer or a novice, if you look to the sky you won't be disappointed.

The comet is named after the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii that first spotted it back in June of 2011.


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