What's this PANSTARRS thing all about?

This post was inspired by... well, me, actually. Because I can.

PANSTARRS is a comet that was discovered in June 2011 and has recently sneaked itself visibly* into the Northern Hemisphere's sky (it's been visible* in the Southern Hemisphere since early February), which means that I can finally get an eyeball on it**.

In order to do so I'll have to look West-ish just after sunset. From March 12th until the 14th (ish) it'll be in the general vicinity of the crescent Moon, which should make it both easier (the Moon's quite easy to find) and harder (the Moon's quite bright and may outshine PANSTARRS - we're lucky it's crescent!) to spot.

By NASA / JPL, via Wikimedia Commons

But you don't come here to find out that stuff - you can get that anywhere. So here's some more info on PANSTARRS that you may not have picked up from the media:

Pan-STARRS is the name of a telescope situated towards the top of mount Haleakala, on the Hawaiian island of Maui. It discovered comet PANSTARRS, known to its mates as C/2011 L4, when it was about 700 million miles from the Sun (that's a bit beyond Jupiter's orbit). C/2011 L4 is a non-periodic comet that hit perihelion on March 10th 2013 and is therefore fading from view as we speak.

Studies of its orbit suggest that it is visiting us from the Oort cloud, and its fleeting visit has probably been millions of years in the making.

If you miss this visit, then don't worry. Just put a reminder in your calendar for about 106,000 years' time.

* By which I mean naked-eye visible. It's been visible to large amateur telescopes since about May 2012.** Except I can't because, gosh darn it, clouds.


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