Reporting Alex DeMetrick
BALTIMORE (WJZ) – A comet that’s been putting on a show south of the equator is now visible where we are–but it’s not easy to see.
Alex DeMetrick reports on where and when to look.
Australian photographer Christopher Malin captured images of the comet Pan-STARRS. It’s named after the automated telescopes that hunt such objects. But with powerful enough binoculars, it can now be spotted over Maryland if you look to the west after sunset.
“And what you’ll see–the comet is kind of a fuzzy star and when I saw it a couple of times last week. a small tail that’s pointing up from the top of it, that’s pointing away from the horizon,” said Jim O’Leary, Maryland Science Center.
NASA spacecraft have spotted it passing between Mercury and the sun.
It’s been a busy month for close encounters. First the meteor that exploded over Siberia and later the same day, a small asteroid passed between the earth and orbiting communication satellites. Comets like Pan-STARRS come from the fringes of the solar system, nudged by gravity from passing stars and the tug of the sun. And the frozen liquid boils away into a glowing tail.
For Pan-STARRS, it’s been a long time between warm-ups.
“You won’t see it again because it’s on a 100,000 year orbit of the sun,” O’Leary said.
Of course, with heavy overcast, you can forget about seeing anything. But if you miss this comet, don’t despair.
“Actually, there’s another chance for a comet later this year in November and December,” O’Leary said.
And like the images that fill the Internet, the next one is predicted to be bright, so bright it may even be visible in daylight and you won’t need binoculars to see it.
The last comet that was visible to the naked eye was called Hale-Bopp in 1997. It was considered the brightest comet of the 20th century.