Daily graphics views of Comet PANSTARRS

How to measure distance in the night sky

Where to see Comet PANSTARRS

The graphics on this page are made observers at or near 40° north latitude. South of that, the comet will appear slightly higher above your horizon early in the month than what these graphics show. If you observe it from north of 40°, the comet will appear even lower in early March than shown, but higher than these as it dims after the middle of March.

Note that the large, full looking tree graphic just left of center is approximately 12 degrees off the horizon from bottom to top, which begins at the top of the "W" also indicative of precisely west in the graphic.  You can learn to estimate distance in the sky here, or see the graphic at right.  Bear in mind also that the Earth rotates 15 degrees every hours, so at 30 minutes past sunset, you have less than 30 minutes for several days, and at best, 40 minutes when the comet reaches 10 degrees of elevation.

A comet has its light spread out over a bit of area, unlike stars, which are point source objects.  So the magnitude - or brightness - indicates the total brightness over the whole area of the comet, including the tail, currently estimated at 1 to 2 degrees long (as of early March).  For comparison, most stars in the Big Dipper (look to the NE sky) are around 2nd magnitude.  The two brightest stars in Orion (SW sky) are 1st magnitude.  And remember you'll be looking at these into the direction of the sun's twilight, so it will be a bit like viewing a flashlight while looking in the direction of the Sun during the day - visible, but likely not brilliant or dazzling.  It will likely be naked-eye under ideal conditions, but it may take some effort, clear skies, and a great horizon for the best views.  

Here are the daily graphics for where to see Comet PANSTARRS. Note that the comet location is listed with a circle, NOT a comet-shape, as that will vary by day.  The graphics simply show the location to look, both in relation to due west, and elevation off the horizon.  Feel free to copy/print these graphics in color (for personal use only).


March 10, Comet PANSTARRS location at 30 minutes past sunset

Predicted brightness: 0.5 (brighter than magnitude 1)

Elevation above horizon at 30 minutes past sunset: About 3 degrees.

Comet PANSTARRS March 10, 2013


March 11, Comet PANSTARRS location at 30 minutes past sunset

Predicted brightness: 0.5 (brighter than magnitude 1)

Elevation above horizon at 30 minutes past sunset: About 5 degrees.

Comet PANSTARRS, March 11, 2013


March 12, Comet PANSTARRS location at 30 minutes past sunset

Predicted brightness: 0.6 (brighter than magnitude 1)

Elevation above horizon at 30 minutes past sunset: About 6 degrees.

Note on this day the Moon is within 5 to 7 degrees of the comet.  However, it is only a one-day old Moon, meaning it will be a tiny, slim sliver of light, itself barely visible in the twilight.  A camera will pick it up more easily than our eye will; look with binoculars to spot it and the comet more quickly that evening.

The background is different here because the comet was "behind the tree" using the other background.  Note that the actual horizon would technically be lower than what this graphic shows.  Horizon should start at the top of the "W" indicating west.

Comet PANSTARRS, March 12, 2013


March 13, Comet PANSTARRS location at 30 minutes past sunset

Predicted brightness: 0.7 (slightly brighter than magnitude 1)

Elevation above horizon at 30 minutes past sunset: About 7 degrees.

The two-day old Moon may make it a bit easier to find the location of the comet.  For most U.S. observers, the comet should be directly below the Moon this evening, approximately 10 to 12 degrees away.  A medium focal length 35mm camera lens may capture both objects in the same field of view, though capturing the contrast of both in the twilight sky may prove challenging.

Comet PANSTARRS, March 13, 2013


March 14, Comet PANSTARRS location at 30 minutes past sunset

Predicted brightness: 0.9 (very close to magnitude 1)

Elevation above horizon at 30 minutes past sunset: About 8 degrees.

Alternate background graphic was used due to comet being "behind the tree."

Comet PANSTARRS, March 14, 2013


March 15, Comet PANSTARRS location at 30 minutes past sunset

Predicted brightness: 1.1

Elevation above horizon at 30 minutes past sunset: About 9 degrees.

Alternate background graphic was used due to comet being "behind the tree."

Comet PANSTARRS, March 15, 2013


March 16, Comet PANSTARRS location at 30 minutes past sunset

Predicted brightness: 1.3

Elevation above horizon at 30 minutes past sunset: About 10 degrees.

Comet PANSTARRS, March 16, 2013


March 17, Comet PANSTARRS location at 30 minutes past sunset

Predicted brightness: 1.5 (between magnitude 1 and the dimmer magnitude 2)

Elevation above horizon at 30 minutes past sunset: About 10 degrees.

Comet PANSTARRS, March 17, 2013


Check back soon for more dates with graphics.