The best chance for Wyoming and Gillette residents to see the comet Pan-STARRS may be Tuesday night in the western horizon of the sky.
Paul Zeleski, director of the planetarium at Sage Valley Junior High, said the comet can be best seen 30 minutes after sunset just to the left of the thin, crescent moon.
While the comet can be seen with the naked eye, it’s not the easiest to find. Astronomers and Zeleski are recommending you use a pair of binoculars to spot the comet first, and once you’ve located it, watch it with your eyes.
“It’s been visible in the southern hemisphere and now it’s peeking into the northern hemisphere,” Zeleski said Tuesday morning. “Tonight will be the easiest to find it. The moon is a nice guide.
“Each day it will be higher and to the right.”
Zeleski did warn sky watchers to find a spot where the western horizon is clear if they want to see the comet.
He and members of the Gillette Astronomical Society, a newly formed club, are trying to find a place for viewing the comet Tuesday evening. They also hope to photograph the moon and the comet together. To find out where you can join the club to view the comet, visit www.gillettenewsrecord.com later Tuesday.
“This should be a really nice appetizer for ISON at the end of the year (starting in November),” Zeleski added. That comet, called the “comet of the century” should rival Hale Bopp, he said.
“It will be brighter and closer,” Zeleski said. “It’s a once in a lifetime sight.”
The view of Pan-STARRS will last only about half an hour. But you should be able to see the comet every night through March 20.
Next week, the comet should be easier to spot, California astronomer Tony Phillips said.
It will be higher in the western sky and therefore visible for longer once the sun sets. The surrounding darkness, versus twilight, will make it stand out if the sky is clear.
“Not a great comet, but still a pretty good one,” Phillips noted.
Although billions of years old, Pan-STARRS is making its first-ever cruise through the inner solar system. The ice ball passed within 28 million miles of the sun Sunday, its closest approach to our star and within the orbit of Mercury.
Phillips said the comet did not appear to decay during its brush with the sun, even though it encountered 10 times more intense solar rays than what we’re used to here on Earth.
Last Tuesday, Pan-STARRS made its closest approach ever of Earth.
The comet’s name is actually an acronym for the telescope in Hawaii used to discover it two years ago: the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System.
Astronomers believe Pan-STARRS somehow got kicked out of the Oort Cloud that is full of icy bodies beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto, and propelled into the inner solar system.
— Marcia Dunn, AP aerospace writer, contributed to this report.