Comet treat for Derry stargazers

Comet 2011 L4 PanSTARRS imaged from Argentina by Luis Argerich on February 13th, 2013. (Credit: Luis Argerich ' Nightscape photography.

Comet 2011 L4 PanSTARRS imaged from Argentina by Luis Argerich on February 13th, 2013. (Credit: Luis Argerich ' Nightscape photography.

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Derry’s stargazers could this week be in for a rare treat in the night skies.

The comet Pan-STARRS passes over Ireland over the next few days and astronomers are predicting it will be seen in the night sky even with the naked eye.

“The best dates for us to look should be March 12 and 13 when it appears in the western twilight not far from the crescent moon,” Terry Moseley of the Irish Astronomical Association says.

“On Tuesday it should be visible about half an hour after sunset, just to the left of the very thin crescent moon.

“The head of the comet, plus the brightest inner part of the tail, should be visible to the naked eye, but a good view of the whole tail may require use of binoculars or a small telescope.

“On Wednesday, look at about the same time, but by then the moon will have risen above the comet. By Thursday evening, the comet will be higher up in the darker twilight, with the moon well above it.

“From then on the comet will be getting higher up in a darker sky, but it will be fading slightly and the tail may be getting shorter.”

Terry says all things being equal, stargazers could be in for a spectacular sight.

“A comet and the crescent moon in the twilight glow is a rare sight, so this will be a lovely and a fascinating spectacle.

“However, comets are unpredictable, and no-one can say for sure just how big or bright it will appear, but it looks promising.”

First discovered in Hawaii in 2011 the icy mass of the Pan-STARRS comet has already delighted southern hemisphere astronomers.

Experts say the comet’s nucleus could be around 30km in diameter and say it could have been hurtling towards the sun for millions of
years.

It is not known if the comet will enter our solar system again.

More information is available online at www.astro-sharp.com/2013/03/01/how-to-see-comet-panstarrs/ and www.irishastro.org