Sky watchers prepare for once-in-a-lifetime chance to view rare comet
Sunday 03 March 2013
A comet with a glowing tail makes a once-in-a-lifetime appearance in the evening sky this month.
Comet 2011 L4 Panstarrs has taken millions of years to travel out from the Oort cloud - a huge colony of icy objects at the edge of the Solar System.
Throughout the month Panstarrs will be visible low in the west.
There could be good picture opportunities on March 12 and 13 when it brushes past the crescent moon.
However, it might be difficult to see the object without binoculars or a telescope.
"It's going to be in the twilight sky and not as bright as we had originally hoped, but comets are terribly unpredictable," said Robin Scagell, vice-president of the Society for Popular Astronomy.
Towards the end of the month the comet will fade but rise higher in the sky, possibly making it easier to see.
On around March 30 its northward path will take it close to the Andromeda galaxy.
"That could provide a good picture for sky watchers," said Mr Scagell.
Panstarrs is not expected to revisit our skies for 110,000 years.
Another comet is expected to make a more dramatic appearance in November.
Comet Ison will fly closer to the Sun, causing it to light up. Experts say it could be bright enough to see in daylight, but from the UK it will only be visible low in the sky.
"It might be fantastic for a few days, but it's difficult to predict ahead of time," said Mr Scagell. "As ever we have to be cautious. What you might see is the tail of the comet sticking up above the horizon."
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