Submitted by Nonny Moose
The opportunity comes up only once every five to ten years, and this year it may come up twice. This month, a comet visible to the naked eye will be making its appearance in the western sky and, in November, comet ISON may be as bright as the moon.
March’s comet PANSTARRS is a sure thing: you can catch sight of it now so long as you have an unobstructed view to the west just after twilight. It will be difficult to see due to the timing. PANSTARRS will only be visible after the sky gets dark enough, but, as it is diving almost directly toward the horizon you must look fast. You get about 15 minutes. March 12th should be the best night to catch a comet because the icy space object will be just beside the crescent moon and thus easy to locate. By April PANSTARRS will be gone.
This comet is a familiar one. It has been hanging around in the Southern Hemisphere for over a year, delighting astronomers and stargazers. The closest the dirty ice ball will come to the sun is 45 million kilometers, so it shouldn’t be melting for a while yet. See some pictures from NASA here.
Comet ISON, on the other hand, will pass about four times closer to the sun. There is a chance it won’t make it, so don’t get your hopes up too high for November. But we shall see… or not see, as the case may be.
For now, cross your fingers for clear skies in March!