Tonight will be one of the best chances to see comet Panstarrs as it passes 28 million miles from the sun and over 100 million miles from earth. Despite the distance, if you are patient and find a good spot to view after sunset, you should be able to see Panstarrs near the horizon just after sunset at 6:55 tonight. To the unaided eye, it may look like a fuzzy star, but if you have a set of binoculars, you should be able to make out the tail. Here is a graph showing the position of Panstarrs during the coming week.
Chart courtesy: Space.com
On the weather side of things, skies will be clear tonight at 6:55 p.m. sunset, but we will be dodging clouds on Wednesday – Friday. Still, opportunities will appear to see the comet if you are lucky and your timing is good. Remember, DO NOT use your binoculars until the sun is completely below the horizon…your eyes can be seriously damaged if you look at or near the sun.
Image courtesy: Space.com
In case you were wondering how Panstarrs got its name, here is the explanation from www.space.com: " Comet Pan-STARRS, which has the official designation C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS), was discovered in June 2011 by astronomers using the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (or PANSTARRS) telescope in Hawaii. The comet made its way into the inner solar system from the Oort cloud — a group of icy bodies orbiting the sun in a region that extends from just beyond the orbit of Neptune out to a distance of 93 trillion miles."
If you don't get to see Panstarrs, you'll have another chance to see comet Oort Cloud in late November. This comet promises to be one of the brightest in at least 30 years. We'll have more on that on the blog closer to November.