In astronomical circles the year 2013 has been dubbed the "Year of the Comets" and for good reason. Already there are three comets that should easily reach naked eye visibility at various times this year. Of these, Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) is predicted to be spectacular, a possible daylight comet. However, we have to wait sometime before Comet ISON graces our skies; it's predicted to reach peak brightness around November. In the meantime, Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) along with Comet Lemmon (C/2012 F6) are already showing in the southern sky.

Based on initial predictions, PanSTARRS was expected to be a great comet of magnitude -1 in early March 2013. Although it had been brightening as expected until the end of last year, the brightening noticeably slowed down in January and therefore unfortunately, PanSTARRS is likely to fall short of the target. How far short, nobody knows but new predictions have the comet peaking at around 2nd magnitude. Of course, such is the unpredictability of these Oort cloud objects that it is impossible to exactly say what might happen next. The comet could easily be a complete damp squid, more likely to put on a reasonable show, but may just suddenly burst back into life again and dazzle audiences! Whatever happens, PanSTARRS remains on target to be a naked eye object and worth watching out for as it certainly going to be interesting.

Comet PanSTARRS recent observations

On January 1st, PanSTARRS was at magnitude 8.3 and only about 0.4 magnitudes fainter than predicted. At this time, the comet displayed a small coma of the order of 2 arc minutes in diameter. By January 7th, PanSTARRS had brightened slightly to magnitude 8.0 and the coma up to 3 arc minutes in diameter, but now 0.8 magnitudes fainter than hoped. A week later the comet was up to magnitude 7.3 and now a much easier binocular target with a 5 arc minutes coma. The nucleus was bright with a diffuse and fainter outer coma, which appeared circular with just a hint of elongation. It was thought by the end of January the comet would be now a naked eye target at about magnitude 5.5. Unfortunately, although relatively easy to spot with binoculars, it had only brightened to magnitude 7.0 and now 1.5 magnitudes fainter than originally predicted. Based on the latest information, PanSTARRS should now be a naked eye object in the middle of February before peaking at around magnitude 2.0 on March 10th.

Location, magnitude and star chart

PanSTARRS has been traveling the southern section of the sky and will continue to do so until March 11th when it will move into the northern part of the sky. On February 1st, the comet is located in obscure constellation of Telescopium with a declination of 45 degrees south, and visible only to those who live in southern and tropical latitudes. On this date, it is positioned 1.5 degrees south of double star Beta (β) Sgr, in the constellation Sagittarius. The Bayer designation Beta Sgr is shared by two star systems, Beta 1 (β 1) Sgr and Beta 2 (β 2) Sgr. They have magnitudes of 4.0 and 4.3 respectively. From latitude 30 degrees south (the approximate position of Santiago, Cape Town, Perth and Sydney) the comet will stand about 15 degrees above the southeastern horizon 45 minutes before sunrise and will remain low above the horizon until about the middle of the month. For northern hemisphere observers, the comet will remain invisible throughout February and they will have to wait until mid-March to catch their first glimpse of it.

The charts below show the position of PanSTARRS until February 17, 2013.

Finder Chart for Comet PanSTARRS from December 14, 2012 to January 31, 2013

Finder Chart for Comet PanSTARRS from December 14, 2012 to January 31, 2013 - pdf format

Finder Chart for Comet PanSTARRS from January 26, 2013 to February 17, 2013

Finder Chart for Comet PanSTARRS from January 26, 2013 to February 17, 2013 - pdf format

Summary

Predicted to be one of the great comets of recent times, comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) was expected to reach magnitude -1 during the early part of March 2013. Up until the start of the New Year, it was living up to expectations. The comet was brightening as expected and looking good to put on a great performance. But then in January the bad news arrived, the comet failed to brighten up as fast as predicted and now looks like peaking at only around magnitude 2.0. Nevertheless, we should have the experience of a naked eye comet visible in the sky.

Comet PanSTARRS

NameC/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS)
Discovered ByPan-STARRS
Discovery DateJune 6, 2011
EpochFeb 4, 2012
Aphelion (AU)unknown
Perihelion (AU)0.3016
Eccentricity1.0001
Orbital Period (years)~110,000
Inclination (degrees)84.19
Next perihelionMarch 10, 2013

Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) Data Table

DateRight AscensionDeclinationMag.Distance from Earth (AU)Constellation
01 Feb 201319h 21m 06s-45d 22m 27s6.81.649Telescopium
02 Feb 201319h 27m 27s-45d 28m 10s6.81.623Telescopium
03 Feb 201319h 34m 02s-45d 32m 42s6.71.598Telescopium
04 Feb 201319h 40m 50s-45d 35m 51s6.71.573Telescopium
05 Feb 201319h 47m 53s-45d 37m 29s6.61.548Telescopium
06 Feb 201319h 55m 10s-45d 37m 24s6.61.523Telescopium
07 Feb 201320h 02m 41s-45d 35m 24s6.51.499Telescopium
08 Feb 201320h 10m 26s-45d 31m 17s6.51.475Telescopium
09 Feb 201320h 18m 27s-45d 24m 47s6.41.451Telescopium
10 Feb 201320h 26m 41s-45d 15m 41s6.41.427Telescopium
11 Feb 201320h 35m 10s-45d 03m 40s6.31.404Microscopium
12 Feb 201320h 43m 52s-44d 48m 30s6.21.382Microscopium
13 Feb 201320h 52m 48s-44d 29m 50s6.11.359Microscopium
14 Feb 201321h 01m 56s-44d 07m 23s5.91.338Microscopium
15 Feb 201321h 11m 15s-43d 40m 49s5.81.316Microscopium
16 Feb 201321h 20m 45s-43d 09m 46s5.61.296Microscopium
17 Feb 201321h 30m 23s-42d 33m 55s5.41.276Grus
18 Feb 201321h 40m 09s-41d 52m 55s5.21.257Grus
19 Feb 201321h 49m 60s-41d 06m 26s5.11.238Grus
20 Feb 201321h 59m 54s-40d 14m 07s4.91.221Grus
21 Feb 201322h 09m 50s-39d 15m 39s4.81.204Grus
22 Feb 201322h 19m 45s-38d 10m 45s4.61.188Grus
23 Feb 201322h 29m 37s-36d 59m 08s4.41.173Grus
24 Feb 201322h 39m 23s-35d 40m 33s4.31.160Piscis Austrinus
25 Feb 201322h 49m 01s-34d 14m 50s4.11.147Piscis Austrinus
26 Feb 201322h 58m 28s-32d 41m 48s3.91.136Piscis Austrinus
27 Feb 201323h 07m 42s-31d 01m 21s3.71.126Sculptor
28 Feb 201323h 16m 39s-29d 13m 27s3.51.118Sculptor
01 Mar 201323h 25m 19s-27d 18m 09s3.31.111Sculptor
02 Mar 201323h 33m 37s-25d 15m 32s3.11.105Sculptor
03 Mar 201323h 41m 31s-23d 05m 52s2.91.101Aquarius
04 Mar 201323h 48m 58s-20d 49m 27s2.71.098Aquarius
05 Mar 201323h 55m 56s-18d 26m 49s2.51.097Aquarius
06 Mar 201300h 02m 21s-15d 58m 38s2.41.097Cetus
07 Mar 201300h 08m 12s-13d 25m 47s2.21.099Cetus
08 Mar 201300h 13m 25s-10d 49m 22s2.11.101Cetus
09 Mar 201300h 18m 00s-08d 10m 41s2.01.105Cetus
10 Mar 201300h 21m 57s-05d 31m 13s2.01.109Pisces
11 Mar 201300h 25m 16s-02d 52m 25s2.01.115Pisces
12 Mar 201300h 27m 59s00d 15m 45s2.11.120Cetus
13 Mar 201300h 30m 10s02d 17m 36s2.21.127Cetus
14 Mar 201300h 31m 51s04d 46m 38s2.41.133Pisces
15 Mar 201300h 33m 08s07d 10m 44s2.61.140Pisces
16 Mar 201300h 34m 03s09d 29m 30s2.71.148Pisces
17 Mar 201300h 34m 41s11d 42m 48s2.91.155Pisces
18 Mar 201300h 35m 05s13d 50m 40s3.11.163Pisces
19 Mar 201300h 35m 17s15d 53m 17s3.31.170Pisces
20 Mar 201300h 35m 20s17d 50m 53s3.51.178Pisces
21 Mar 201300h 35m 16s19d 43m 45s3.61.186Pisces
22 Mar 201300h 35m 06s21d 32m 12s3.81.194Pisces
23 Mar 201300h 34m 52s23d 16m 31s4.01.202Andromeda
24 Mar 201300h 34m 35s24d 57m 01s4.21.210Andromeda
25 Mar 201300h 34m 14s26d 33m 58s4.31.218Andromeda
26 Mar 201300h 33m 52s28d 07m 39s4.51.226Andromeda
27 Mar 201300h 33m 28s29d 38m 18s4.71.234Andromeda
28 Mar 201300h 33m 03s31d 06m 09s4.91.243Andromeda
29 Mar 201300h 32m 37s32d 31m 25s5.11.251Andromeda
30 Mar 201300h 32m 10s33d 54m 17s5.31.259Andromeda
31 Mar 201300h 31m 44s35d 14m 56s5.51.267Andromeda

See also

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) edges closer to March evening performance
Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) brightens to within binocular range


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