They call 2013 the Year of the Comets. When you can have 3 naked eyes comets gracing the sky in a year, 2013 definitely deserves the title.
Comet PANSTARRS (C/2011 L4)
The first one is called Comet PANSTARRS. PANSTARRS, stands for Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System, is the telescope that discovered the comet. This 1.8-m telescope is located atop the Haleakala volcano in Hawaii. This comet already put on a great show in the southern hemisphere, and now our fellow Malaysians also had captured the comet in Negeri Sembilan and Sawarak.
It was estimated that the comet is the brightest between March 8 – 12, with roughly the magnitude of zero. But bear in mind that a comet’s magnitude is the estimate of the light emitted by the whole (extended) object, while a star is a point of light. Thus, when Comet PANSTARRS reaches a magnitude of zero, it won’t appear as bright as a zero magnitude star because the comet’s light will spread out over a larger area.
The video below shows the position of the comet for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 8 to 30 March. The chart was produced using Stellarium. If you do not have Stellarium, go and download one now! It’s an open source planetarium software that can show you how the sky looks like anywhere on Earth. And since Comet PANSTARRS is the hot topic now, you wouldn’t want to miss it. So, once you have installed Stellarium, follow this video to add Comet PANSTARRS (and other comets). Now you can know when and where the comet is visible at your location.
To observe the comet, you need a clear and unobstructed western horizon, it only visible for 1 hour after sunset. Be early at the observing site, you can enjoy the beautiful sunset while searching for the comet. If the sky is clear, we should be able to see it with the naked eyes, if you have binoculars would be better.
Comet Lemmon (C/2012 F6)
The second one is called Comet Lemmon. The comet was discovered by A. R. Gibbs using the telescope at the Mount Lemmon Survey, located in Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, Arizona, USA.
Comet Lemmon is actually located quite near to Comet PANSTARRS, but the sighting favours those in the southern hemisphere. If you are lucky to have a clear sky, you can capture both the comets in one picture, as shown in the beautiful picture below. You can also notice the different colours of the comets: Comet PANSTARRS (near the horizon) is showing its dust tail reflected by sunlight, whereas Comet Lemmon is sporting a green tail dominated by glowing ions.
Credit: Yuri Beletsky (ESO)
The charts below show the positions of Comet Lemmon and Comet PANSTARRS for Mar 10 and 15 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (use the same method as above to add Comet Lemmon into Stellarium). For us at the equator, Comet Lemmon lies near to the horizon and poses a challenge to spot it. Hopefully, we also can capture a picture of dual comets like the one above.
Comet ISON (C/2012 S1)
The final comet is Comet ISON, which hopefully will put on a great show in November. At its brightest, it is predicted to be brighter than the full moon! We will just have to wait and see. I’ll write more on it when the time is near.
So, for this whole week, do not do overtime, go out before sunset and try to catch some comets!
Clear skies and Happy Comet Hunting!