Comets, comets everywhere!
10/23/2012 3:58 PM
I'm not an avid comet-observer. Most of the comets that are on their way through the solar system on any given night aren't terribly bright, or impressive to see. But Comet Hergonrother woke some of us up the past few weeks, after brightening from magnitude 14 to magnitude 8 or 10 (depending on whom you believe). 2013 could prove to be another one of those periods like in the mid-1990's when Comets Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp graced our skies within a few months of each other.
Comet PANSTARRS (more accurately, C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS). This could put on quite a decent show this coming spring. It's apparently predicted to reach magnitude -4 at perihelion, which is close to the brightness of Venus! Venus is the 3rd brightest object in the sky after the Sun and Moon, so to have that kind of competition magnitude-wise means that observers here on Earth could be in for a real treat if these objects wind up as bright as predicted. And it should be visible to the northern latitudes for several weeks in mid-spring of 2013.
But wait, there's more! PANSTARRS may just be the warm-up act.
Turns out, Comet ISON is predicted (perhaps!) to be incredibly bright - up to magnitude -14 when it is close to the Sun and still visible in the sky in late autumn 2013 / early winter 2014. For comparison, the full Moon is magnitude -12.7! It's possible the comet may be visible during the day. Given that it's orbit appears to be tracking that of another "great comet" from the past, amateur astronomers are cautiously optimistic that this comet won't be a "dud" like Comet Kohoutek was in the early 1970's, which promised to put on a great show, and then fizzled.
Stay tuned for more! "Eyes on the Sky" will keep watching these and let you know when, and where, to look as they brighten up.
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