Comet PANSTARRS currently glows at approximately magnitude 7. Astronomers use the magnitude system to describe the brightness of any celestial object; the smaller the number, the brighter the object. Most people can see a magnitude 6 star from a dark site without optical aid. But, unlike a star, a comet is an extended object, so its brightness spreads out a bit. To reach naked-eye visibility, Comet PANSTARRS will have to rise fivefold in brightness, which, hopefully, will happen in about a week.
For complete coverage of Comet PANSTARRS, visit www.astronomy.com/panstarrs.
On February 1, the comet lies in the obscure constellation Telescopium, and it is visible only to those who live in southern latitudes. On that date, from latitude 30° south (the approximate position of Santiago, Chile, and Perth and Sydney, Australia), Comet PANSTARRS will stand 15° above the southeastern horizon at the start of morning twilight. And it will lie 10° or more above the horizon through the 13th. Unfortunately, the comet will remain invisible to Northern Hemisphere observers throughout February.
Those eager amateur astronomers who live at latitude 40° north will begin to see the comet in the morning sky in mid-March. Veteran comet-watcher and Astronomy Contributing Editor Raymond Shubinski points out an important fact: “Although the comet may be disappointing to the eye, point a camera — or, better yet, a camera attached to a telescope — at it, and the detail you capture may surprise you.”
Both photographers and visual observers are hoping that the comet will fool predictors once again and rise to a brightness that makes it an easy catch under a dark sky. So, stay tuned to Astronomy.com for Comet PANSTARRS updates.
- Special Coverage: Find everything you need to know about Comet PANSTARRS in Astronomy.com’s Year of the Comet section.
- Video: Get ready for 2013’s first naked-eye comet, with Senior Editor Richard Talcott
- StarDome: Locate Comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) in your night sky with our interactive star chart. To ensure the comet is displayed, click on the “Display…” drop-down menu under Options (lower right) and make sure “Comets” has a check mark next to it. Then click the “Show Names…” drop-down menu and make sure “Comets” is checked there, too.
- Observing overview: See what predictions are for the length of Comet PANSTARRS’ trip to the inner solar system.
- Images: Submit images of Comet PANSTARRS to our Online Reader Gallery.
- Discussion: Ask questions and share your observations in our Reader Forums.
- Sign up for our free weekly e-mail newsletter.