Observing Report: Comet PanSTARRS by naked eye!

March 17, 2013

Last night London and I joined fellow PVAA members Ron, Joe, and Steve up on Mount Baldy to watch for the comet. We spotted it fairly late, at least compared to the other night in Claremont when I first saw it at 7:25 PM. Up on the mountain we didn’t see it until 7:45, but I think it was visible sooner, we were just looking in the wrong place. We didn’t see the comet sooner because we were looking too far south and too close to the horizon. On the other hand, that’s not a bad problem to have, because when did finally spot it, it was higher in the sky than any of us expected, so we got to watch it for a good long time before it got too low to see. We finally lost it in the murk over LA at about 8:15.

Some people go up to our observing spot just to watch the sun set, and last night was no exception. While we were waiting for the sun to set, I was able to show a couple of people the waxing crescent moon and Jupiter and the Galilean moons. Unfortunatelly our guests gave up and left just about 5 minutes before we spotted the comet. Still, they were very excited by the views of the moon and Jupiter. After the comet set, London and Ron and I spent a few minutes looking at bright Messier objects:  the Pleiades, the Orion nebula, and the  galaxies M81 and M82 in Ursa Major. We had another look at the moon and Jupiter and wrapped up at 8:40.

So it was a short session, but a good one. And, as the title indicates, once it got dark enough we could see the comet with our naked eyes. It wasn’t just a bright dot in the sky, but very slightly elongated, like a tiny dash or comma. In the telescope it was fantastic, with a bright, well-defined tail that stretched out for almost half a degree even in the twilight. I tried to get some pictures with my camera, but there not enough contrast between the comet and sky to get any decent results. I will sketch it one of these days.

The comet will only get higher in the sky (for northern hemisphere observers, anyway) in coming weeks and months. At the same time, it’s going to get dimmer–it’s at max brightness right now. But the light fall-off isn’t going to be crippling. Next month the comet will be a magnitude or so dimmer, but it will also be a LOT higher in the sky, and I think the latter effect will outweigh the former. So I’m expecting even better views of the comet in weeks to come.

One comment

  1. Haven’t had a chance to see PanStarrs yet – marine layer comes into Santa Monica and Malibu around late afternoon the past week or so. Hopefully I’ll get a chance this weekend when the weather will supposedly clear up.

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