THE COMET SHOW BEGINS: Last night, March 12th, a rare meeting occured in the sunset sky. Comet Pan-STARRS (C/2011 L4) was only a few degrees away from the exquisitely-slender crescent Moon. Brian Klimowski sends this picture from the countryside near Flagstaff, Arizona:
"Beautiful show this evening!" says Klimowski. "I took the photo from an altitude of about 9500 feet in the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff. A 1-second exposure with my Canon digital camera easily revealed the comet."
Because of the sunset glow, Comet Pan-STARRS remains at the lower limit of naked-eye visibility. A small number of observers have reported seeing the comet with averted vision but, for the most part, binoculars are required. The situation will improve in the nights ahead as Comet Pan-STARRS moves away from the sun into darker skies. Later this week it might be possible to walk outside after nightfall, look west, and see the comet with the unaided eye. If you would like to try tonight, look for Comet Pan-STARRS directly underneath the waxing crescent Moon: sky map.
The show is just getting started. Stay tuned! More: NASA video, 3D orbit, ephemeris, light curves. www.spaceweather.com