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March 07, 2013

SMOD 2013 UPDATE: Panstarrs (Theoretically) Visible Tonight South of Latitude 40N

A helpful chart for you Northerners, some brief observational updates from viewers in Louisana and Florida, and some helpful tips below. If you live on the East Coast it should be coming into view about now, given you have a clear shot of the horizon.

Sky and Telescope has a great write up tracking the brightening of C/2011 L4 here, complete with this chart set for roughly NYC latitude:

Some observers have commented on the S&T page with their personal observations, including this one out of South Florida:
Tampa Bay Area Fla, USA, 27d55m Lat N; 82d42m Long W; Tues evening 05 March 2013 at 06:45 EST (11:45 UTC). Sky was crystal clear, local sunset at 06:32 EST. Observed Comet PanSTARRS in western sky with naked eye. Surprisingly bright. Approx 10d above twilight horizon. Great sight with 10x50 binoculars. Comet color appeared golden in the evening twilight conditions. Tail was well developed & Vee-shaped with bottom of Vee pointed toward sun. No problem seeing with naked eye even in bright twilight.

Amateur astronomy forum cloudynights.com has a few more observations:

Just saw it tonight at 6:30 pm in NC. Very bright and naked eye for sure! Binoculars showed a streak, so no star. Only about 5-10* over the horizon and visible for about 15 min. before it sank. Looks really promising:)

I originally posted this in another thread, but I had no problem finding it from 33 N [author is in Georgia] during March 6's twilight. I snagged a couple of pictures with my point-and-shoot camera and posted them online.

The latest update has the comet brightening now to magnitude 1.5, even against the twilight this is now well within naked eye range for American observers in the coming days. The comet should peak in brightness on Sunday, but will be hugging the horizon.

Tips for finding and enjoying Comet PANSTARRS:
1-Find a flat observation site, then find someplace flatter. When you have, find somewhere flatter still. Google maps offers a terrain option which I found very useful in scouting locations for my attempt Sunday. Rooftops from tall buildings, mountainside overhangs, and of course seashore locales (weather permitting) would be ideal. The rule is this: if you don't have a clear view of the Western horizion, find another spot. At my latitude (Southern California), it will be at most a fists'-width above the ground.

2- Lower your expectations. Photographs of comets will almost always blow you away more than a naked-eye view, barring your use of a small telescope.

3- A smaller telescope will be more useful for close-ups than a large dobsonian. Dobs are great for deep sky, ok for planets, but for comets unless you know exactly where you are aiming, ditch the dob.

4- Better yet, opt for binoculars. Comet Hale-Bopp was impressive naked-eye, but was oooh-inducing through a simple set of 8x42's.

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posted by CAC at 05:57 PM

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