Southern New Englanders have a chance at catching a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of Comet PANSTARRS in the coming days. On Wednesday evening, March 13, if the sky is clear at dusk the comet will be visible low on the horizon in the western sky. There will be a crescent moon just above it and to the left (south). With clear sky and an unobstructed view, the comet should be visible with binoculars or the naked eye.
Comet PANSTARRS was discovered in June 2011 by the high-powered telescope Pan-STARRS in Hawaii. The comet became visible to amateur astronomers with telescopes in the spring/summer of 2012. It is a non-periodic comet, meaning that its orbit will not be returning to earth anytime soon. It may have taken millions of years to come from the Oort comet cloud surrounding our solar system, and once rounding the sun its orbit will still be 110,000 years.
In 2007, Comet McNaught was visible in the sky over Southern New England. Meteorologist Fred Campagna caught McNaught in this photo using a telephoto lens on his camera on a mainly clear evening in the western sky. Hopefully, the viewing of Comet PANSTARRS will be just as spectacular this month.