First photo of Comet Pan-STARRS.
Tonight is our first opportunity to see Comet PanSTARRS, low in the west this evening. Check just a few degrees above the horizon about a half hour after sunset. binoculars may help pick out the comet fromt he glow of dusk. Remember, you need a very clear view of the western horizon, and you only have a brief opportunity to see it before it sets. Of course, with each passing day it will get higher and higher, so if you miss it tonight you can try again any day this week. Good luck and hopefully we'll have lots of good reports to share at the next meeting. More info is available in this month's Event Horizon http://amateurastronomy.org/EH/March2013.pdf
I checked about a half hour after sunset tonight (Sunday March 10) and had low cloud in the west, obscuring the comet and ruining any chance of a view tonight. The forecast is poor for the next few days, but here's hoping! Post your observations here on the blog or email them to me at email@example.com
***UPDATE***MARCH 14 2013***
Success! After several cloudy nights I was able to see Comet Pan-STARRS low in the west this evening. Barely visible to the unaided eye from the Hamilton harbourfront, it was easily visible in binoculars. Not the best comet I've ever seen, but each one is a treat. Looking forward to hearing your observations. (pics to follow)
(Copied from our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/hamiltonamateurastronomers)
By now with some of the posts here and elsewhere, you've probably heard about Comet PanSTARRS. It will be the first naked eye comet visible to us in the northern hemisphere in some time. There was hope that it would be extremely bright,
but revised estimates place it maxing out at magnitude +2, perhaps +3 (which will make it brighter than Sirius - the brightest star in the sky, but not as bright as Venus or Jupiter can get). Correction: got the + and - signs mixed up. Sirius is at mag -1. So PanSTARRS won't be the brightest object. At +2, it will be comparable to the star Saiph in Orion or the brighter stars in the Big Dipper or Cassiopeia. Still potentially impressive. Unfortunately comets are very unpredictable - it could end up becoming brighter or dimmer very quickly.
Perigee (the closest the comet gets to the Earth) was Tue Mar 5, but it was not yet visible from the northern hemisphere. But it's climbing in the sky as it continues towards the Sun where it should get closer to it expected maximum brightness. Maximum brightness should occur around March 10 just as it does get above the horizon for us northerners.
Here's a chart showing the position of the comet from the 7th to the 20th. On the earlier dates, the comet will be very low and hard to see in the distant horizon. Later it will get higher, but at the same time it will be getting further from us. The crescent Moon on the 12th and 13th won't really interfere, but may enhance any photographic efforts.
The chart (from Sky&Tel) is good for 40 degrees latitude north - Hamilton is at 43, so it's a pretty good guide for us.
Because it's low in the western sky, we will only have a short window each evening just after sunset to view this object before it sets. It may be a bit of a challenge to pick out of the sunset glow around the earlier dates.
Fortunately for our area (Hamilton), the skies are expected to be mostly clear from the 8th to 10th, and perhaps again around the 13th to 15th. This may give us lots of opportunities to view and maybe even image the comet.
But be careful using optics or cameras. Don't use them until the Sun has fully set - we don't want to risk any one's eyesight.
The best instrument to use to enjoy the comet is probably going to be a pair of binoculars. It provides a wide enough field-of-view to see the entire comet and any tail(s). Find yourself a good open location with a clear view to the West. The lower the horizon from your vantage point, the better. Once the Sun has dropped below the horizon, then begin scanning for it in the sunset's glow. Don't wait until twilight is over - it will be too late then.
Sunset is approx 6:15pm to 6:20pm EST. Don't forget that Daylight Savings Time begins this Sunday Mar 10 when clocks are moved forward 1 hour. So sunset will occur 1 hour later after that.
If you do manage to see or image the comet, please let us know here. Have fun and good hunting.
(A Sky&Tel article with more info about the comet)
This asteroid is going to make a close fly-by of the Earth on Friday 15 Feb. It's going to pass so close, that it will fly within the radius of geosynchronous/geostationary satellites (35000km/22000mi). This approx 45m (150ft - about half the size of a football stadium - a 130,000 metric ton half-size football stadium!) asteroid will pass the Earth at a distance of 27000km (17000mi). But there is NO RISK of Impact - we are perfectly safe.
Also - even though it will pass within the range of some satellites, the chance of hitting one is quite low. It will pass through our orbital plane from south to north, inside the geosynchronous orbit - in an area where there are very few satellites.
Closest approach will occur at around 19:25UTC (14:25EST). It will be magnitude 7 - too faint for naked eye viewing, but potentially viewable in binoculars and telescopes. Regrettably we won't be able to see this fly-by ourselves since it will still be daylight for our area. The best viewing will be from Asia, Africa and Europe. It will be moving in a south to north direction, ending up passing through Ursa Major. By the time night falls for us, it will be very high in the sky and will have faded to about magnitude 12 which will be a challenge, even in larger scopes. It's apparent motion across the sky will be quite quick - approx the diameter of the Full Moon every 45 seconds at closest approach (a little slower as it recedes).
Asteroids of this size pass this close to Earth on average, every 40 years and impact about every 1200 years. The Tunguska event of 1908 would be comparable if this asteroid did hit us (and I repeat, it will NOT hit the Earth). So we're not due to be hit by another asteroid of this size for about 1100 more years. But it is a fairly rare occurrence and something you should try to see.
How can you observe this asteroid if it's not going to be visible from North America?
If you wanted to catch it as it receded from the Earth (once it was dark here), you could try to load ephemeris for the asteroid's track using programs like Stellarium or Carte Du Ciel. But it will pass so close that the Earth's gravity is going to perturb it's orbit and the ephemeris will not be correct for the entire track.
Another option is to use JPL's web site which takes into account Earth's gravity and provides the correct calculations, but this means having a computer to track your scope. Can be done, but tricky.
(It's important to note that even in amateur telescopes, it's going to be a faint small star-like point moving across the sky. You won't see any details.)
Fortunately a much easier 3rd options exists. There will be a number of telescopes on the correct side of the Earth that will be tracking this asteroid and they will be streaming online. So you can watch the fly-by live.
Clay Center Observatory:
Virtual Telescope Project in Europe:
Slooh Space Camera:
I haven't seen any productions from Clay before, but Slooh and Virtual Telescope usually have some good commentators.
The following web sites have more information about this asteroid fly-by.
Universe Today - asteroid-2012-da14-observing-prospects-and-how-to-see-it
Planetary Society - Guide-to-2012-DA14
NASA Science News - 28jan_2012da/
Sky And Telescope - Asteroid-DA14-to-Zip-Past-Earth
Which ever method you use, be sure to catch this rare event.
And remember - keep looking up.
I am sure every sky-watcher can recognize CORONA BOREALIS, the beautiful constellation of the Northern Crown found in the spring sky, rising high in the East after dark.
After many years at minimum brightness (and I mean as faint as magnitude 15), the variable star R Coronae Borealis is slowly brightening again. If you have binoculars, you can watch it brighten slowly this spring until it reaches magnitude 6 again.
R CrB variables are normally bright, but can accumulate a cloud-like covering of carbon. Until that carbon shell is burned off, these stars can be dimmed up to 10 magnitudes. This star has a habit of dimming and then regaining its brightness within a few months.
Strangely, since 2007 R CrB has been only 1/10,000 its normal brightness. Moreover, whereas R CrB usually springs back to magnitude 6 quickly, this latest recovery is taking a long time. The AAVSO chart below graphs R CrB's visual brightness for the last 10 years. You can see the star's swift dip and recovery in 2003, contrasted with the several years at minimum and the most recent - very slow - recovery.
This is a star worth watching again!
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