Comet PanSTARRS, as seen in a photograph taken a few days ago in Argentina showing a nicely developed dust tail. A good comet will have the dust tail extend at least 45 degrees or so, according to Texas A&M Astronomy Program Director Nicholas Suntzeff.


Heads up from Texas A&M University astronomers regarding Comet PanSTARRS, which will be visible to the naked eye as it zips through the skies over Bryan-College Station and the northern hemisphere starting this week.

Don Carona, manager of the Texas A&M Physics and Astronomy Teaching Observatory, advises scanning the western horizon for the hurtling celestial body of ice and rock roughly 30 minutes after sunset, noting it should blaze brightest during the next few days.

"It's been a long time since we've had a good comet that could be observed in the sky without a telescope or good binoculars," Carona said. "Especially one with a tail that is as prominent as this comet's."

The most recent similarly prominent example Carona recalls was Hale-Bopp in 1997 -- the most distant comet ever discovered by amateurs as well as the brightest since Comet West in 1976.

Carona recommends a pair of binoculars or a wide-field telescope and viewing the comet from anywhere west of the Bryan-College Station city lights and looking west with an unobstructed view.

"I would imagine that around Lake Bryan from a higher elevation would be nice," he said. "Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of public land going west from Bryan and College Station. So be careful of private property."

The comet (featured Tuesday as NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day) is named after the entity that discovered it, the Pan-STARRS (Panoramic Survey Telescope And Rapid Response System) project, using a 1.8-meter telescope at the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy. Though the comet became visible in the northern hemisphere this week, it has been observed throughout the southern hemisphere for several months.

For more information about the Texas A&M Physics and Astronomy Teaching Observatory, visit http://observatory.tamu.edu/.

To learn more about the Pan-STARRS project, visit http://pan-starrs.ifa.hawaii.edu/public/.

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Contact: Vimal Patel, (979) 845-7246 or vpatel@science.tamu.edu or Don Carona, (979) 845-0536 or don@tamu.edu

Patel Vimal

  • Viewing Guide

    Look west after sunset in early and mid-March for Comet PanSTARRS. Binoculars may be needed to pick it out of the sunset glow. Look too early and the sky will be too bright; too late and the comet will be too low. On the altitude scale at left, 10 degrees is about the width of your fist held at arm's length.

    Suntzeff notes this diagram is drawn for a viewer near 40 degrees north latitude. The comet will be higher in the Brazos Valley sky -- roughly 30 degrees. He says it will be very easy to locate on March 12 relative to the Moon.

    Click here for more great shots of PanSTARRS from around the world. (Sky & Telescope)

© Texas A&M University. To request use of any of our photographs for educational use or to view additional options from our archive, please contact the College of Science Communications Office.

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