By Dan Hicks
Comet PanSTARRS, photographed low in the northwestern sky through a telephoto lens at 9:24 p.m. on March 22 at Alexis Creek, is officially known as C/2011 L4.
The comet debuted in the southern Canadian evening twilight sky on March 11, but in the Cariboo-Chilcotin, as elsewhere in B.C., constant overcast severely limited its visibility.
Furthermore, at our latitude, the comet has remained an apparition for binoculars, through which a distinctive head and tail are revealed.
Beginning tonight, March 28, with the waning moon not rising until 10 p.m., the comet may become visible again through binoculars in the northwestern twilight sky from a dark location.
PanSTARRS is the first classic-form comet visible from Canada since Comet McNaught in January 2007.
Comet PanSTARRS is named after the 1.8-meter Hawaiian telescope, the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, which first detected the incoming kilometer-wide ball of ice, dust, and rock in June 2011.
PanSTARRS was closest to the Sun on March 10 when it passed inside Mercury’s orbit from below our solar system’s planetary orbital plane, heading upward, above the plane, possibly returning for another solar visit in 106,000 years.
So, of those few of us who actually gaze upon this elusive visitor from outer space on its inaugural visit, none will be around to cheer its return.
The comet will remain in our night sky throughout the spring as it travels toward Polaris (the North Star), but as it is moving up and away from both the Sun and Earth, it will inevitably lose its tail, becoming a telescopic dot, then disappearing completely, but not forever.
Sources: SkyNews Magazine, and Wikipedia.