Comet PanSTARRS is now on its final charge towards perihelion (closest approach to the Sun), which it reaches on March 10, 2013. Sadly, it's been a disappointing last couple of months for comet enthusiasts tracking this object. Originally expected to be a great comet in early March, PanSTARRS was predicted to be as bright as magnitude -1 but has somewhat fizzled out since the start of the year. It is now seems likely that it will peak at only magnitude 2. Although nowhere near as bright as originally hoped, the comet should still be a naked eye object and a fine sight during March.
Comets are often very unpredictable and PanSTARRS is no exception. Just when it appeared to be sputtering, it suddenly showed an increased rate of brightening during the second week of February. Since its very difficult to predict how comets will react when they pass close to the Sun, PanSTARRS may still have a surprise in store for us. Who knows, perhaps in the end something not far short of the dazzling performance originally predicted? Only time will tell!
On January 31, PanSTARRS was shining at magnitude 7.0 and located in the constellation of Corona Australis. Although some 1.5 magnitudes fainter then originally predicted, the comet had still brightened sufficiently to be visible in binoculars, appearing non-stellar with a faint coma surrounding a bright nucleus. A few days later on February 5, PanSTARRS was up to magnitude 6.4 with an increased coma of 5 arc minutes in diameter. When viewed through 10x50 binoculars or a small telescope, the coma was obvious, appearing condensed and slightly elongation. The first real visually signs of a tail were also apparent. Despite spanning only about a quarter of a degree in length, this small tail should grow significantly over the coming few weeks. On February 11, the comet reached magnitude 6.1 and at the fringe of naked eye visibility. Now easily visible with binoculars, the coma was up to 7 arc minutes in diameter with a half a degree tail. The comet remained a low down morning twilight object (for southern hemisphere observers) in the constellation of Microscopium. Then came a noticeable increase in brightness that was faster than expected. PanSTARRS reached magnitude 5.4 on February 15, 0.7 magnitudes brighter than 4 days earlier. Around this time also came the first flurry of naked eye sightings arrived.
Location, magnitude and star chart
After traveling through the southern section of the sky for much of the recent past, PanSTARRS is now heading northeastwards at some pace. On February 13, the comet was located at a declination of 44 degrees south in the constellation of Microscopium. It then moved into Grus on February 16. PanSTARRS will then pass into Piscis Austrinus on February 23 at a declination of 35 degrees south. The comet remains in Piscis Austrinus for only 3 days before moving into Sculptor on February 26. The magnitude of PanSTARRS is now estimated to increase from 5.4 on February 15 to 3.3 on February 27.
The charts below show the position of PanSTARRS until February 27, 2013.
During February PanSTARRS is visible only from the southern hemisphere. For the first three weeks of the month PanSTARRS is a morning twilight object. From latitude 30 degrees south (the approximate position of Santiago, Cape Town, Perth and Sydney) the comet stood about 15 degrees above the southeastern horizon 45 minutes before sunrise and remained low above the horizon until about the middle of the month. It then draws in towards the Sun, decreasing in latitude each day. PanSTARRS then reappears in the evening sky during the last week of February and is visible very low down towards the western horizon during twilight.
On February 26, there is a great marker in the sky that aids searching for the comet. The first magnitude star Fomalhaut (α PsA - mag. 1.2) lies only 2 degrees to the north of PanSTARRS and both objects will appear very low down in the western sky during evening twilight. The best approach is to first locate Fomalhaut and then use binoculars or a small telescope to pinpoint mag. 3.5 PanSTARRS.
For northern hemisphere observers, the comet will remain invisible throughout February. They will have to wait until mid-March to catch their first glimpse of it when it appears as an early evening object.
|Name||C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS)|
|Discovery Date||June 6, 2011|
|Epoch||Feb 4, 2012|
|Orbital Period (years)||~110,000|
|Next perihelion||March 10, 2013|
Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) Data Table
|Date||Right Ascension||Declination||Mag.||Distance from Earth (AU)||Constellation|
|15 Feb 2013||21h 11m 15s||-43d 40m 49s||5.4||1.316||Microscopium|
|16 Feb 2013||21h 20m 45s||-43d 09m 46s||5.2||1.296||Microscopium|
|17 Feb 2013||21h 30m 23s||-42d 33m 55s||5.0||1.276||Grus|
|18 Feb 2013||21h 40m 09s||-41d 52m 55s||4.8||1.257||Grus|
|19 Feb 2013||21h 49m 60s||-41d 06m 26s||4.6||1.238||Grus|
|20 Feb 2013||21h 59m 54s||-40d 14m 07s||4.5||1.221||Grus|
|21 Feb 2013||22h 09m 50s||-39d 15m 39s||4.4||1.204||Grus|
|22 Feb 2013||22h 19m 45s||-38d 10m 45s||4.3||1.188||Grus|
|23 Feb 2013||22h 29m 37s||-36d 59m 08s||4.1||1.173||Grus|
|24 Feb 2013||22h 39m 23s||-35d 40m 33s||3.9||1.160||Piscis Austrinus|
|25 Feb 2013||22h 49m 01s||-34d 14m 50s||3.7||1.147||Piscis Austrinus|
|26 Feb 2013||22h 58m 28s||-32d 41m 48s||3.5||1.136||Piscis Austrinus|
|27 Feb 2013||23h 07m 42s||-31d 01m 21s||3.3||1.126||Sculptor|
|28 Feb 2013||23h 16m 39s||-29d 13m 27s||3.1||1.118||Sculptor|
|01 Mar 2013||23h 25m 19s||-27d 18m 09s||2.9||1.111||Sculptor|
|02 Mar 2013||23h 33m 37s||-25d 15m 32s||2.7||1.105||Sculptor|
|03 Mar 2013||23h 41m 31s||-23d 05m 52s||2.5||1.101||Aquarius|
|04 Mar 2013||23h 48m 58s||-20d 49m 27s||2.3||1.098||Aquarius|
|05 Mar 2013||23h 55m 56s||-18d 26m 49s||2.1||1.097||Aquarius|
|06 Mar 2013||00h 02m 21s||-15d 58m 38s||2.0||1.097||Cetus|
|07 Mar 2013||00h 08m 12s||-13d 25m 47s||1.8||1.099||Cetus|
|08 Mar 2013||00h 13m 25s||-10d 49m 22s||1.7||1.101||Cetus|
|09 Mar 2013||00h 18m 00s||-08d 10m 41s||1.7||1.105||Cetus|
|10 Mar 2013||00h 21m 57s||-05d 31m 13s||1.7||1.109||Pisces|
|11 Mar 2013||00h 25m 16s||-02d 52m 25s||1.7||1.115||Pisces|
|12 Mar 2013||00h 27m 59s||00d 15m 45s||1.8||1.120||Cetus|
|13 Mar 2013||00h 30m 10s||02d 17m 36s||1.8||1.127||Cetus|
|14 Mar 2013||00h 31m 51s||04d 46m 38s||2.0||1.133||Pisces|
|15 Mar 2013||00h 33m 08s||07d 10m 44s||2.2||1.140||Pisces|
|16 Mar 2013||00h 34m 03s||09d 29m 30s||2.3||1.148||Pisces|
|17 Mar 2013||00h 34m 41s||11d 42m 48s||2.5||1.155||Pisces|
|18 Mar 2013||00h 35m 05s||13d 50m 40s||2.7||1.163||Pisces|
|19 Mar 2013||00h 35m 17s||15d 53m 17s||2.9||1.170||Pisces|
|20 Mar 2013||00h 35m 20s||17d 50m 53s||3.1||1.178||Pisces|
|21 Mar 2013||00h 35m 16s||19d 43m 45s||3.2||1.186||Pisces|
|22 Mar 2013||00h 35m 06s||21d 32m 12s||3.4||1.194||Pisces|
|23 Mar 2013||00h 34m 52s||23d 16m 31s||3.7||1.202||Andromeda|
|24 Mar 2013||00h 34m 35s||24d 57m 01s||3.9||1.210||Andromeda|
|25 Mar 2013||00h 34m 14s||26d 33m 58s||4.0||1.218||Andromeda|
|26 Mar 2013||00h 33m 52s||28d 07m 39s||4.2||1.226||Andromeda|
|27 Mar 2013||00h 33m 28s||29d 38m 18s||4.4||1.234||Andromeda|
|28 Mar 2013||00h 33m 03s||31d 06m 09s||4.6||1.243||Andromeda|
|29 Mar 2013||00h 32m 37s||32d 31m 25s||4.8||1.251||Andromeda|
|30 Mar 2013||00h 32m 10s||33d 54m 17s||5.0||1.259||Andromeda|
|31 Mar 2013||00h 31m 44s||35d 14m 56s||5.2||1.267||Andromeda|
Final swan song for Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) heads towards a close pass by of Polaris, the Northern Pole Star Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) moves through Cassiopeia Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) starts to fade but remains a naked eye and binocular target Media Frenzy as Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) is now visible to observers in the Northern Hemisphere How to see Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) in March 2013 Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) on the verge of naked eye visibility Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) brightens to within binocular range