Need Spring Break Plans? Consider Comet Watching!

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 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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