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Still Time to See Comet PanSTARRS
What's Up: Brought to you by Jane Houston Jones
Color image of comet over city at twilight.
Pete Lawrence captured comet PANSTARRS in the twilight sky over England in March.

If you thought you had missed a glimpse of Comet PanSTARRS when it became visible to northern hemisphere observers around March 10, don't worry, it's still visible with binoculars! It was easier for me to to see it earlier in March when the moon served as a signpost - the comet was directly to the left of the moon on March 11 and directly below the comet the next night, March 12. It was challenging to find the comet, which was bright enough to be visible to the unaided eye, but the contrast between the comet and the hazy horizon made it hard to find until about a half hour after sunset.

By mid-March the comet was a little higher and many stargazers, even those observing from bight urban backyards were able to easily pull the comet into their binoculars aimed about ten degrees the western horizon, 30 minutes after the sun set.

In late March and early April the comet has moved to the north - or to the right of the sunset, and it is still visible to those who have a low horizon view, some constellation knowledge and very clear skies. If you are familiar with the big and little dipper, concentrate on the handle of the little dipper - the star Polaris, also known as the North Star. Look from Polaris to the left and spot the brightest star - that's no star, it's Jupiter. In between the two, and nearly down to the horizon is where you'll scan for the Andromeda Galaxy and the fuzzy comet on the right side of the galaxy.

I'll be trying to see the comet beginning April 3. Check out my April What's Up podcast for an animation of the comets movement with respect to the Andromeda Galaxy. Hopefully we'll have some pictures to share next week.

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About: Jane Houston Jones
Photo of Jane Houston Jones
Jane is an astronomer, NASA science podcast developer, writer, educational and outreach artisan and social media enthusiast. She and her husband have an asteroid (22338 Janemojo) named after them.
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Last Updated: 1 Apr 2013