At the moment you read this, you may want to consider running outside if you’re on the east coast of the US. For the folks further west, you have a few hours left to plan. Assuming that the clouds aren’t covering the sky, there is a bit of hopefully spectacular science coming up on the western horizon.
While the Southern Hemisphere has had some great views of Comet Pan-STARRS for several weeks, it’s now everyone else’s turn to have a shot.
Starting tonight and lasting through March 20th, Pan-STARRS will start to make it’s way up the western horizon – with tomorrow evening (March 10th) marking its brightest point.
According to EarthSky.org (which has a great guide for viewing the comet), your best bet at spotting it is just after sunset, just as the sky starts to darken.
This should – allegedly – be visible to the naked eye, assuming you have a clear view to the west. The moon is nearly new, so it won’t be cluttering up the viewing too badly. As the linked article notes, however, it will be putting on a show for the next few nights, so you may have a couple more chances to see it. Go on out and give it a shot. If you miss it, however, there’s another, possibly bigger show coming in the fall.
If you happen to miss Pan-STARRS (most of the us in the northeast are lucky to get one or two cloudless nights in March), don’t worry – the big comet of 2013, Comet ISON, is still on track to give us a historic visit next November.
I’m old enough to have seen the last trip of Haley, but that was something of a dud. Hale-Bopp was the last one I saw which was truly breathtaking. These are fairly rare events, so even if you’re not normally into the geek stuff, it’s worth going out to take a peek. For some background, here are the last five big ones. Enjoy.