March 15, 2013: For a comet, visiting the sun is risky business. Fierce solar heat vaporizes gases long frozen in the fragile nucleus, breaking up some comets and completely destroying others.
That's why astronomers weren't sure what would happen in early March when Comet Pan-STARRS, a first-time visitor to the inner solar system, dipped inside the orbit of Mercury. On March 10th, NASA’s STEREO-B spacecraft watched as the comet made its closest approach to the sun only 28 million miles away. At that distance, the sun loomed 3 times wider and felt more than 10 times hotter than it does on Earth.
The comet survived.
Still intact, Comet Pan-STARRS is emerging from the Sun’s glare into the sunset skies of the northern hemisphere. Solar heating has caused the comet to glow brighter than a first magnitude star. Bright twilight sharply reduces visibility, but it is still an easy target for binoculars and small telescopes 1 and 2 hours after sunset. As of March 15th, people are beginning to report that they can see the comet with the unaided eye.
A new ScienceCast video tracks the progress of Comet Pan-STARRS and the development of its wild tail. Play it
More - Link >>> http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2013/15mar_sunsetcomet/
Source: NASA Science News.
Sky and Telescope Magazine Comet Pan-STARRS Updates & Sky Diagram:
Link >>> http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/home/185665152.html
Special Thanks: Eric G. Canali, former Floor Manager of Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science and Founder of the South Hills Backyard Astronomers amateur astronomy club.
Related Blog Posts ---
Updates: Viewing Comet PanSTARRS (2013 March 6):
Comet Pan-STARRS Brightens for March Apparition (2013 March 5):Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2013/03/comet-pan-starrs-brightens-for-march.html
Possible Naked-eye Comet in March (2013 Feb. 7):
Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director,
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