Comet View Possible Just After Sunset
Comet Pan-STARRS is expected to be visible in the western sky just above the horizon.
Step outside just a little bit after sunset for the next week and you might get to see a comet with the naked eye. Comet Pan-STARRS is expected to be visible in the west just after sunset for up to an hour.
Most experts expect it to become a naked-eye object about as bright as the stars of the Big Dipper, according to NASA.gov.
On March 9 and 10, Astronomy Magazine's Richard Talcott says the comet will pass within 28 million miles of the Sun and will stand some 7° high in the west 30 minutes after sunset. Those are the brightest nights expected as well.
Talcott says the crescent Moon can guide you to the comet March 12 and 13. On the 12th, PANSTARRS stands to the upper left of our satellite; the next evening, the comet lies to the Moon’s lower right.
"Because of its small distance from the sun, Pan-STARRS should be very active, producing a lot of dust and therefore a nice dust tail," predicts Matthew Knight of the Lowell Observatory on NASA.gov.
"However," he cautions, "it could still be difficult to see. From our point of view on Earth, the comet will be very close to the sun. This means that it is only observable in twilight when the sky is not fully dark."
The best dates to look may be March 12 and 13 when Pan-STARRS emerges in the western sunset sky not far from the crescent Moon. The comet's tail will probably require binoculars or a small telescope to see, though the gaseous coma around the head of the comet should be visible to the naked eye.
Another key date is March 10, when the comet comes closest to the sun. The dose of solar heating it receives just inside the orbit of Mercury could be just what the comet needs to push it into the realm of naked-eye visibility.