Our solar system is expecting a visitor called Comet Pan-STARRS, which might be visible in the evening sky during most of March.
Pan-STARRS came from the Oort Cloud, the enormous cloud of comets that surrounds our solar system. It contains ice and dust that have been frozen for billions of years, never having a chance to melt until now.
The comet has never been near the sun before, so scientists aren’t sure how it will react. Most of them estimate that it will be as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper.
“But prepare to be surprised,” said researcher Karl Battams in a NASA article. “A new comet from the Oort Cloud is always an unknown quantity equally capable of spectacular displays or dismal failures.”
As the comet is quite close to the sun, it should produce plenty of dust and therefore have a good tail.
“My guess is that the primary feature visible to the naked eye will be the gaseous coma around the head of the comet,” Matthew Knight of the Lowell Observatory said in the article.
“The comet’s tail will probably require binoculars or a small telescope.”
Comet Pan-STARRS will be closest to Earth on March 5—about 100 million miles away—and closest to the sun on March 10. However, the best time to see it might be March 12 and 13, when the comet may be seen next to the crescent moon in the twilight sky.
“Because of its small distance from the sun, Pan-STARRS should be very active, producing a lot of dust and therefore a nice dust tail,” Knight said. “However, it could still be difficult to see. From our point of view on Earth, the comet will be very close to the sun.”
“This means that it is only observable in twilight when the sky is not fully dark.”
The comet was named after the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System, the Hawaiian telescope used to discover it.
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