Comet Pan-STARRS? Meh. Just wait till you see Comet ISON

March 17, 2013 | 7:03 a.m.

Comet Pan-STARRS has wowed observers all over the Northern Hemisphere and should continue to be visible, experts say, through the end of the month. It’s not too late to eyeball it — but if you miss it, don’t fret. As far as 2013 comets go, this one was only second best.

Coming our way in November is (drumroll) Comet ISON.

Don’t get me wrong. Pan-STARRS has been fun. NASA put together a view of the comet worth seeing. It was captured by the STEREO-B spacecraft orbiting the sun and shows a “quite complex” tail as the comet moves between Mercury and Earth.  If you still want to see the comet, as Forbes recommends, your best bet is to go somewhere with the least light pollution possible, then about half an hour after sunset look toward the west. The comet should be about 10 degrees west of the moon, or about the size of your fist at arm’s length. Each night, the comet will be slightly higher and slightly farther east.

As we near March 31, the light from the comet will become dimmer, so don’t wait.

The Comet Lovejoy is visible near Earth’s horizon. It was photographed by NASA astronaut Dan Burbank, commander of Expedition 30 to the International Space Station. (NASA / Associated Press)

The Comet Lovejoy is visible near Earth’s horizon in 2011. It was photographed by NASA astronaut Dan Burbank, commander of Expedition 30 to the International Space Station. (NASA / Associated Press)

Hero Complex said of Pan-STARRS:

It likely originated in the ominous sounding Oort Cloud, a sphere of icy bodies that lies in the outer reaches of the solar system. Made of bits of rock held together by ice, these bodies are remnants from the creation of our solar system approximately 4.5 billion years ago.

ISON is the next notable comet coming our way. The space agency has compared ISON to 2011’s Comet Lovejoy, whose tail was brightly visible. But there’s been “comet of the century” talk surrounding ISON. Scientists aren’t making any promises — but so far, so good.

Two bright comets in one year is rare, NASA notes, and this one could shine as brightly as a midday full moon. The comet, discovered in September, has a nucleus in the range of 1 to 10 kilometers.  That will give it some heft as the so-called sun grazer takes a close swing around our star. The comet reaches perihelion Nov. 28.

If it survives its close solar encounter, NASA says, ISON “could emerge glowing as brightly as the moon, briefly visible near the sun in broad daylight.”

And there’s no chance the comet, even if it breaks apart, will hit the Earth, experts say.

Here’s a movie clip from “Deep Impact” for an example of what will not be happening with this possible comet of the century. But the special effects are cool.

— Amy Hubbard | @AmyTheHub


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6 Responses to Comet Pan-STARRS? Meh. Just wait till you see Comet ISON

  1. Frank Salvador says:

    Has anyone seen Pan-Starrs at any LA county beaches? I have not been able to find it for the last week.

  2. Gene says:

    Frank, If you are viewing the comet with unaided eyesight – no binoculars or telescope – you're probably inot going to see it from LA because of the light pollution. I saw Comet PanSTARRS from my house last night, and it was barely visible without binoculars. My house is located at 7000 feet outside of Colorado Springs, an area with some light pollution, but nothing like LA.

  3. Alex says:

    PanStarrs was NOT easily visible to the naked eye here in Maryland on Tuesday. On that crisp clear night, I found it with binoculars (with much dificulty). I found a photograph on the internet of it over Annapolis a week previous, and though it might be something spectacular to see. Either it has dimmed significantly, or I am going blind.

  4. Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) Facebook Page –

  5. Kevin C. says:

    I actually tried to find PANSTARSS at Venice Beach. No luck. Hoping Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) will be far more stunning.

    I actually built a website dedicated entirely to comets. Pics, videos and information for each comet can be found there. The page for Comet ISON is

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