Comet C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS over Upper Ferntree Gully, VIC, Australia. (Photo : Flickr / Chris Samuel)
Stargazers are in for unique treat this week: Tuesday and Wednesday will provide the best views of the earth-approaching, billions-of-years-old comet C-2011 Pan-STARRS.
Citizens of Australia, and other locales in the southern hemisphere have already been able to observe the comet for a few weeks, but comet Pan-STARRS only made its triumphant debut to those in the northern hemisphere in the past week, and it's still been difficult to spot. Glare from the sun has mostly obscured the heavenly object. However, that all changes Tuesday when the comet should be visible next to a crescent moon.
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Scientists say the comet's close distance from the moon should allow even amateur astronomers to easily pick it out of the sky. For the best possible views of comet Pan-STARRS, astronomers first suggest to "find an unobstructed, cloudless spot away from city lights and look just above the horizon in the west," according to Wired.
Next, "wait until the sun is fully below the horizon to scan for the comet in the darkening twilight," advises astronomer Tony Phillips, according to Yahoo News.
If the sky is clear, comet Pan-STARRS should be visible in the western part of the sky roughly 45 minutes following sundown.
While some astronomers in Australia noted they were able to see the comet with just their eyes, Phillips added that skywatchers should use binoculars for the best view of the comet.
Comet Pan-STARRS isn't expected to be the biggest space object to cruise by Earth, but it still promises to put on an exciting show, said Jack Dunn, coordinator of the Mueller Planetarium at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, The Journal Star reported.
"It's not particularly large, but it is a nice one," said Dunn.
"I think we have a good shot at it," Dunn added of Earth's chances for viewing the comet.
Discovered two years ago, PanSTARRS got its name from the Hawaiian telescope scientists used to find it: the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System.
If the weather conspires against you, you just can't get out of the city, or something else ruins your view, not to worry; comet Pan-STARRS will "be visible the rest of the month, fading away in April or after," according to Wired.