After much build up and anticipation Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) will finally arrive and light up the early evening skies during March. Early predictions forecasted a spectacular display, a dazzling naked-eye comet, rivaling in brilliance the night sky's brightest stars and blazing an unforgettable trail above the western horizon just after sunset for a few days in March.

Sadly, recent observations suggest than PanSTARRS will be much dimmer than originally estimated. Even so, it should still reach naked-eye visibility and it certainly would be bad luck if we were denied a good view of this icy-rock, at least with a pair of binoculars or a telescope.

Comet PanSTARRS on February 8, 2013 (Michael Mattiazzo - http://members.westnet.com.au/mmatti/sc.htm)

Recent observations

So far this year PanSTARRS has been a southern hemisphere comet. To a lesser extent it was also visible from the tropics but not from northern temperate latitudes. For the first 6 weeks of 2013, the comet brightened only modestly but just when it seemed we might have a celestial flop on our hands, it suddenly produced a small but noticeable increase in brightness. This small burst of activity coincided with the first batch of naked eye sightings as PanSTARRS hit magnitude 5.4 (February 15th). Only four days later, the comet was now a nice early morning object for southern hemisphere observers. Despite been only a few degrees above the horizon it was visible with the naked eye, even against the bright twilight background. The coma of the comet was concentrated with a short broad tail of at least 30 arc minutes in length. Estimates at this stage put the magnitude at 4.5. The comet then continued to brighten as it switched from the morning to the evening sky. On February 27th, PanSTARRS was now magnitude 3.4 with the coma and tail clearly visible to the naked eye. When viewed through 10x50 binoculars the tail measured more than 1 degree in length and of course extended much further when imaged or photographed.

Location, magnitude and star chart

As PanSTARRS heads northwards against the background stars, visibility switches from observers located in the southern hemisphere to those in the north. The comet on February 27th was located in Sculptor at a declination of 30S and visible as an evening twilight object for southern hemisphere observers, although very low down. For those in the northern hemisphere it was not visible but their waiting time is now almost over.

PanSTARRS continues on an essentially northeastern path. From Sculptor, it then cuts through a corner of Aquarius before heading into Cetus on March 5th. It then makes a short diversion into Pisces (March 9th to March 11th), then back into Cetus for two further days before returning to Pisces on March 13th. This is the period of peak brightness when PanSTARRS reaches perihelion or closest approach to the Sun (March 10th). On this date we estimate a magnitude of 1.6, although given the unpredictability of comets, it could easily be brighter or dimmer than that. What is certain, the comet will be positioned extremely close to the Sun in the sky and as always extreme care must be made when observing in such cases. Never casually sweep for the comet with binoculars or a telescope if the Sun is above the horizon. Make sure that the Sun is below the horizon. Even the shortest glimpse of the unfiltered Sun with binoculars or telescopes can cause permanent eye damage. It's just not worth the risk.

The comet then heads due north for a while, crossing into Andromeda on March 22nd and into Cassiopeia on April 9th before arriving in Cepheus at the end of the month. By now PanSTARRS will be circumpolar for most observers located in the northern hemisphere.

The charts below show the position of PanSTARRS until March 22, 2013.

Finder Chart for Comet PanSTARRS from February 27, 2013 to March 7, 2013

Finder Chart for Comet PanSTARRS from February 27, 2013 to March 7, 2013 - pdf format

Finder Chart for Comet PanSTARRS from March 6, 2013 to March 13, 2013

Finder Chart for Comet PanSTARRS from March 6, 2013 to March 13, 2013 - pdf format

Finder Chart for Comet PanSTARRS from March 13, 2013 to March 22, 2013

Finder Chart for Comet PanSTARRS from March 13, 2013 to March 22, 2013 - pdf format

Current visibility

For southern hemisphere observers PanSTARRS is visible very low down in the western sky during evening twilight until about the second week of March when it is lost to the Sun. Observers based in the northern hemisphere have it much better. They can expect to follow PanSTARRS as a naked-eye object from about March 12th until April 1st. The comet is best seen in the evening sky during this time although from about the third week of March it may also been seen in the morning skies, before becoming circumpolar from most northern locations in early April. Its magnitude will decrease from 1.7 on March 12th to 3.7 on March 22nd and down to 5.5 by April 1st. With a bit of luck, it should display a nice long tail. On March 12th, PanSTARRS is joined by the extremely thin crescent two-day old Moon.

The diagram below shows PanSTARRS as seen from temperate northern latitudes.

Comet PanSTARRS as seen from New York (40N), 45 minutes after sunset.

For example from New York, USA (40N) the comet is about 10 degrees above the west-northwest horizon from March 15th to April 1st, 45 minutes after sunset. This covers the period of naked-eye visibility. After that the comet will be higher in the sky but now beyond naked eye visibility and requiring at least binoculars to be seen. By April 13th it will located a declination of 50N and therefore circumpolar from anywhere north of 40 degrees latitude; hence visible all night, but down to 7th magnitude in brightness.

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
24 Feb 201322h 39m 21s-35d 40m 47s4.01.160Piscis Austrinus
25 Feb 201322h 48m 59s-34d 15m 04s3.81.148Piscis Austrinus
26 Feb 201322h 58m 26s-32d 42m 03s3.61.136Piscis Austrinus
27 Feb 201323h 07m 40s-31d 01m 38s3.41.126Sculptor
28 Feb 201323h 16m 38s-29d 13m 46s3.21.118Sculptor
01 Mar 201323h 25m 18s-27d 18m 29s3.01.111Sculptor
02 Mar 201323h 33m 36s-25d 15m 54s2.71.105Sculptor
03 Mar 201323h 41m 30s-23d 06m 14s2.51.101Aquarius
04 Mar 201323h 48m 57s-20d 49m 51s2.31.098Aquarius
05 Mar 201323h 55m 55s-18d 27m 14s2.11.097Aquarius
06 Mar 201300h 02m 21s-15d 59m 04s2.01.097Cetus
07 Mar 201300h 08m 11s-13d 26m 14s1.81.099Cetus
08 Mar 201300h 13m 25s-10d 49m 49s1.71.101Cetus
09 Mar 201300h 18m 00s-08d 11m 09s1.61.105Cetus
10 Mar 201300h 21m 57s-05d 31m 41s1.61.109Pisces
11 Mar 201300h 25m 16s-02d 52m 53s1.61.115Pisces
12 Mar 201300h 27m 59s-00d 16m 12s1.71.120Cetus
13 Mar 201300h 30m 10s02d 17m 09s1.81.127Cetus
14 Mar 201300h 31m 51s04d 46m 13s2.01.133Pisces
15 Mar 201300h 33m 08s07d 10m 19s2.21.140Pisces
16 Mar 201300h 34m 03s09d 29m 06s2.41.148Pisces
17 Mar 201300h 34m 41s11d 42m 25s2.61.155Pisces
18 Mar 201300h 35m 05s13d 50m 19s2.81.163Pisces
19 Mar 201300h 35m 18s15d 52m 56s3.01.170Pisces
20 Mar 201300h 35m 21s17d 50m 33s3.21.178Pisces
21 Mar 201300h 35m 17s19d 43m 26s3.41.186Pisces
22 Mar 201300h 35m 07s21d 31m 53s3.71.194Pisces
23 Mar 201300h 34m 53s23d 16m 13s3.91.202Andromeda
24 Mar 201300h 34m 35s24d 56m 44s4.11.210Andromeda
25 Mar 201300h 34m 15s26d 33m 42s4.31.218Andromeda
26 Mar 201300h 33m 52s28d 07m 23s4.51.226Andromeda
27 Mar 201300h 33m 28s29d 38m 03s4.61.234Andromeda
28 Mar 201300h 33m 03s31d 05m 55s4.81.242Andromeda
29 Mar 201300h 32m 38s32d 31m 11s5.01.251Andromeda
30 Mar 201300h 32m 11s33d 54m 04s5.21.259Andromeda
31 Mar 201300h 31m 44s35d 14m 43s5.31.267Andromeda
01 Apr 201300h 31m 17s36d 33m 18s5.51.276Andromeda
02 Apr 201300h 30m 50s37d 49m 59s5.61.284Andromeda
03 Apr 201300h 30m 22s39d 04m 53s5.81.292Andromeda
04 Apr 201300h 29m 55s40d 18m 08s5.91.300Andromeda
05 Apr 201300h 29m 27s41d 29m 51s6.11.309Andromeda
06 Apr 201300h 28m 60s42d 40m 08s6.21.317Andromeda
07 Apr 201300h 28m 32s43d 49m 05s6.31.325Andromeda
08 Apr 201300h 28m 04s44d 56m 46s6.51.334Andromeda
09 Apr 201300h 27m 36s46d 03m 18s6.61.342Andromeda
10 Apr 201300h 27m 07s47d 08m 44s6.71.350Cassiopeia
11 Apr 201300h 26m 39s48d 13m 08s6.81.358Cassiopeia
12 Apr 201300h 26m 09s49d 16m 34s6.91.367Cassiopeia
13 Apr 201300h 25m 39s50d 19m 06s7.01.375Cassiopeia
14 Apr 201300h 25m 09s51d 20m 46s7.11.383Cassiopeia
15 Apr 201300h 24m 37s52d 21m 39s7.21.392Cassiopeia
16 Apr 201300h 24m 05s53d 21m 45s7.31.400Cassiopeia
17 Apr 201300h 23m 31s54d 21m 08s7.41.408Cassiopeia
18 Apr 201300h 22m 56s55d 19m 49s7.51.417Cassiopeia
19 Apr 201300h 22m 20s56d 17m 52s7.61.425Cassiopeia
20 Apr 201300h 21m 41s57d 15m 17s7.71.433Cassiopeia
21 Apr 201300h 21m 01s58d 12m 07s7.81.442Cassiopeia
22 Apr 201300h 20m 19s59d 08m 22s7.91.450Cassiopeia
23 Apr 201300h 19m 34s60d 04m 05s8.01.459Cassiopeia
24 Apr 201300h 18m 46s60d 59m 17s8.11.467Cassiopeia
25 Apr 201300h 17m 55s61d 53m 58s8.21.476Cassiopeia
26 Apr 201300h 17m 00s62d 48m 10s8.31.485Cassiopeia
27 Apr 201300h 16m 02s63d 41m 53s8.31.493Cassiopeia
28 Apr 201300h 14m 59s64d 35m 09s8.41.502Cassiopeia
29 Apr 201300h 13m 52s65d 27m 58s8.51.511Cassiopeia
30 Apr 201300h 12m 38s66d 20m 20s8.61.519Cassiopeia
01 May 201300h 11m 19s67d 12m 17s8.61.528Cepheus
02 May 201300h 09m 53s68d 03m 48s8.71.537Cepheus
03 May 201300h 08m 19s68d 54m 53s8.81.546Cepheus
04 May 201300h 06m 36s69d 45m 32s8.91.555Cepheus
05 May 201300h 04m 43s70d 35m 46s8.91.564Cepheus
06 May 201300h 02m 39s71d 25m 33s9.01.574Cepheus
07 May 201300h 00m 22s72d 14m 54s9.11.583Cepheus
08 May 201323h 57m 50s73d 03m 48s9.11.592Cepheus
09 May 201323h 55m 02s73d 52m 12s9.21.602Cepheus
10 May 201323h 51m 54s74d 40m 07s9.31.611Cepheus
11 May 201323h 48m 24s75d 27m 29s9.31.621Cepheus
12 May 201323h 44m 29s76d 14m 18s9.41.631Cepheus
13 May 201323h 40m 03s77d 00m 30s9.51.641Cepheus
14 May 201323h 35m 02s77d 46m 01s9.51.650Cepheus
15 May 201323h 29m 19s78d 30m 47s9.61.661Cepheus
16 May 201323h 22m 47s79d 14m 43s9.71.671Cepheus
17 May 201323h 15m 16s79d 57m 41s9.71.681Cepheus
18 May 201323h 06m 35s80d 39m 33s9.81.691Cepheus
19 May 201322h 56m 28s81d 20m 06s9.81.702Cepheus
20 May 201322h 44m 40s81d 59m 06s9.91.712Cepheus
21 May 201322h 30m 49s82d 36m 14s10.01.723Cepheus
22 May 201322h 14m 31s83d 11m 04s10.01.734Cepheus
23 May 201321h 55m 19s83d 43m 05s10.11.745Cepheus
24 May 201321h 32m 47s84d 11m 36s10.11.756Cepheus
25 May 201321h 06m 39s84d 35m 48s10.21.767Cepheus
26 May 201320h 36m 52s84d 54m 48s10.31.778Draco
27 May 201320h 03m 57s85d 07m 42s10.31.790Draco
28 May 201319h 29m 01s85d 13m 49s10.41.801Draco
29 May 201318h 53m 40s85d 12m 50s10.41.813Draco
30 May 201318h 19m 37s85d 04m 57s10.51.825Draco
31 May 201317h 48m 17s84d 50m 50s10.51.837Draco
01 Jun 201317h 20m 25s84d 31m 23s10.61.849Ursa Minor
02 Jun 201316h 56m 15s84d 07m 34s10.61.861Ursa Minor
03 Jun 201316h 35m 35s83d 40m 20s10.71.873Ursa Minor
04 Jun 201316h 18m 02s83d 10m 27s10.71.886Ursa Minor
05 Jun 201316h 03m 10s82d 38m 31s10.81.898Ursa Minor
06 Jun 201315h 50m 32s82d 05m 02s10.81.911Ursa Minor
07 Jun 201315h 39m 48s81d 30m 24s10.91.924Ursa Minor
08 Jun 201315h 30m 37s80d 54m 53s10.91.937Ursa Minor
09 Jun 201315h 22m 43s80d 18m 43s11.01.950Ursa Minor
10 Jun 201315h 15m 55s79d 42m 04s11.01.964Ursa Minor
11 Jun 201315h 10m 01s79d 05m 06s11.11.977Ursa Minor
12 Jun 201315h 04m 53s78d 27m 53s11.11.991Ursa Minor
13 Jun 201315h 00m 24s77d 50m 32s11.22.004Ursa Minor
14 Jun 201314h 56m 29s77d 13m 07s11.22.018Ursa Minor
15 Jun 201314h 53m 02s76d 35m 41s11.32.032Ursa Minor
16 Jun 201314h 49m 60s75d 58m 17s11.32.047Ursa Minor
17 Jun 201314h 47m 20s75d 20m 58s11.42.061Ursa Minor
18 Jun 201314h 44m 58s74d 43m 44s11.42.075Ursa Minor
19 Jun 201314h 42m 54s74d 06m 39s11.52.090Ursa Minor
20 Jun 201314h 41m 03s73d 29m 43s11.52.104Ursa Minor
21 Jun 201314h 39m 26s72d 52m 58s11.62.119Ursa Minor
22 Jun 201314h 38m 01s72d 16m 23s11.62.134Ursa Minor
23 Jun 201314h 36m 45s71d 40m 02s11.72.149Ursa Minor
24 Jun 201314h 35m 39s71d 03m 53s11.72.165Ursa Minor
25 Jun 201314h 34m 42s70d 27m 58s11.82.180Ursa Minor
26 Jun 201314h 33m 52s69d 52m 17s11.82.195Ursa Minor
27 Jun 201314h 33m 08s69d 16m 50s11.82.211Ursa Minor
28 Jun 201314h 32m 31s68d 41m 38s11.92.227Ursa Minor
29 Jun 201314h 32m 00s68d 06m 42s11.92.243Ursa Minor
30 Jun 201314h 31m 34s67d 32m 01s12.02.259Ursa Minor
01 Jul 201314h 31m 13s66d 57m 35s12.02.275Ursa Minor
02 Jul 201314h 30m 56s66d 23m 26s12.12.291Ursa Minor
03 Jul 201314h 30m 43s65d 49m 33s12.12.307Ursa Minor
04 Jul 201314h 30m 35s65d 15m 56s12.12.324Draco
05 Jul 201314h 30m 29s64d 42m 35s12.22.340Draco
06 Jul 201314h 30m 27s64d 09m 32s12.22.357Draco
07 Jul 201314h 30m 28s63d 36m 45s12.32.374Draco
08 Jul 201314h 30m 32s63d 04m 14s12.32.391Draco
09 Jul 201314h 30m 39s62d 32m 01s12.42.408Draco
10 Jul 201314h 30m 48s62d 00m 05s12.42.425Draco
11 Jul 201314h 30m 59s61d 28m 26s12.42.442Draco
12 Jul 201314h 31m 12s60d 57m 05s12.52.460Draco
13 Jul 201314h 31m 28s60d 26m 00s12.52.477Draco
14 Jul 201314h 31m 45s59d 55m 13s12.62.495Draco
15 Jul 201314h 32m 05s59d 24m 43s12.62.512Draco
16 Jul 201314h 32m 26s58d 54m 31s12.62.530Draco
17 Jul 201314h 32m 49s58d 24m 35s12.72.548Draco
18 Jul 201314h 33m 13s57d 54m 57s12.72.566Draco
19 Jul 201314h 33m 38s57d 25m 37s12.82.584Draco
20 Jul 201314h 34m 05s56d 56m 33s12.82.602Draco
21 Jul 201314h 34m 34s56d 27m 47s12.82.620Draco
22 Jul 201314h 35m 03s55d 59m 17s12.92.639Draco
23 Jul 201314h 35m 34s55d 31m 05s12.92.657Draco
24 Jul 201314h 36m 06s55d 03m 10s13.02.675Draco
25 Jul 201314h 36m 39s54d 35m 31s13.02.694Boötes
26 Jul 201314h 37m 13s54d 08m 09s13.02.712Boötes
27 Jul 201314h 37m 48s53d 41m 04s13.12.731Boötes
28 Jul 201314h 38m 23s53d 14m 16s13.12.750Boötes
29 Jul 201314h 38m 60s52d 47m 43s13.12.769Boötes
30 Jul 201314h 39m 38s52d 21m 27s13.22.788Boötes
31 Jul 201314h 40m 16s51d 55m 28s13.22.806Boötes

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
Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) edges closer to March evening performance
Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) on the verge of naked eye visibility
Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) brightens to within binocular range


Sky Highlights - July 2017

The Planets
This Month's Guide

Algol Minima
Algol eclipse dates and times for July

Meteor Shower
Southern Delta Aquariids (Aquarids) meteor shower peaks on July 29

Northern Hemisphere
Evening
West:- Mercury (mag. -0.5 to +0.3) (second half of month)
Southwest:- Jupiter (mag. -2.0)
South:- Saturn (mag. +0.2)
Midnight
West:- Jupiter
South:- Saturn
East:- Neptune (mag. +7.8)
Morning
Southwest:- Saturn
South:- Neptune
Southeast:- Uranus (mag. +5.8)
East:- Venus (mag. -4.1)

Southern Hemisphere
Evening
West:- Mercury (second half of month)
Northwest:- Jupiter
East:- Saturn
Midnight
West:- Jupiter
North:- Saturn
East:- Neptune
Morning
West:- Saturn
North:- Neptune
Northeast:- Venus, Uranus

Deep Sky

Small telescopes:-
Messier 13 - M13 - Great Hercules Globular Cluster
Messier 92 - M92 - Globular Cluster
Messier 11 - M11 - The Wild Duck Cluster (Open Cluster)
Messier 7 - M7 - The Ptolemy Cluster (Open Cluster)
Messier 6 - M6 - The Butterfly Cluster (Open Cluster)
Messier 4 - M4 - Globular Cluster
Messier 8 - M8 - Lagoon Nebula (Emission Nebula)
Messier 16 - M16 - Eagle Nebula (Emission Nebula with Open Cluster)
Messier 20 - M20 - Trifid Nebula (Emission and Reflection Nebula)

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