Rare cosmic sighting available during twilight

Mar 12, 2013 | Biz/Tech

"For those in search of comet L4 PANSTARRS, look to the west after sunset in early and mid-March. This graphic shows the comet's expected positions in the sky." Image credit: NASA

“For those in search of comet L4 PANSTARRS, look to the west after sunset in early and mid-March. This graphic shows the comet’s expected positions in the sky.” Image credit: NASA

By Kaite Boivin

Get your wishes and binoculars ready; the comet Pan-STARRS will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere starting Tuesday.

Until March 18, the comet will be visible to the naked eye looking west, but only for a quick 15 minutes during twilight.

“This comet has a relatively small window,” Rachel Stevenson, a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif, said in a NASA reported.

“Look too late, the comet will be too low and obstructed by the horizon,” she said, adding that “look too early and the sky will be too bright.”

Although it will be visible to the naked eye, stargazers are encouraged to wear binoculars, as there may be some glare from the sun during twilight.

For those wanting the rare sight the comet is low in the western sky, next to the crescent moon.

“It will be 10 degrees above the horizon… about the width of your fist,”  Michael Cook, President of the Durham Region Astronomical Association, told Humber News.

He said stargazers will be able to see the head of the comet with a tail streaming out like a “jet stream”.

Next week it will be easier to view as it will be higher in the sky and therefore visible for longer once the sun sets.

Pan-STARRS was visible in the Southern Hemisphere the last few weeks, Cook said.

Astronomers discovered the comet two years ago, using one of the world’s largest digital cameras, on Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS telescope – giving the comet its name, reported National Geographic News.

Cook called it a “showstopper” because of how bright it was for being so far out.

Reports are calling 2013 the year for comets with this following the Russian meteor which exploded before reaching earth.

Astronomers know another, more famous comet is on its way.

The comet ISON is forecast to be one of the brightest comets ever seen and may be visible during the day starting in November, Wired reported.

“A Christmas time comet,” Cook referred to it as. He said it will be easier than Pan-STARRS to view because it will be in the northern sky.