Comet could be visible with the naked eye in the northern hemisphere starting tonight

Mar 8, 2013

Sky gazers are in for a treat tonight in the northern hemisphere. Starting on March 8, a comet dubbed C/2011 L4 Pan-Starrs should be visible in the northern hemisphere using binoculars or telescope. The icy mass may become even brighter in the following days.

BBC News reports that the comet could become so bright in the days following March 8 that it can be seen with the naked eye. Astronomers say that right now they have no idea how bright the comet will get, but they are keeping their fingers crossed that it will be an impressive celestial event. The comet was first discovered in June of 2011 using the Pan-Starrs telescope in Hawaii.

When the telescope discovered the comet, it was more than 1,000,000,000 km away from the earth. Astronomers believe that the comet originated in the Oort Cloud, which is a region of space packed with the icy masses that hurls them towards our sun with regularity. The astronomers also believe that this particular comet is non-periodic. What that means is that this could be the first time the comet has ever passed through our inner solar system.

The scientists also believe that it can be another 100,000 years before the comet returns making this a once in a lifetime (or many lifetimes) viewing experience. The closer the comet gets to the sun, the brighter it will be. The nucleus of the comet is estimated to be about 20 to 30 km in diameter but the scientists say gas and dust surrounding the comet could span more than 1,000,000 km. Astronomers say that March 12 and 13th could be the best viewing opportunity and skywatchers should look in a roughly a Western direction as the comet will be in the sky with a thin crescent moon. The comet will disappear from the nighttime sky as April draws near.

[via BBC News]

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