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Comet C/2011 L4 Panstarrs from the South Hemisphere

March 07, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

This comet was discovered back in 2011 at Hawaii by the Pan-STARRS telescope, an acronym meaning "Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System" just a few hours after its discovery we knew a lot about this comet, we knew it was coming from outside the solar system from an hypothetical zone known as the "Oort Cloud", this was the first visit of this comet to the inner solar system and it was probably going to be visible to the naked eye in March 2013.  The Comet was named C/2011 L4 Pan-STARRS and I sincerely hope this is the last time a comet is named after an acronym. If our next forecasted comet c/2012 S1 becomes bright I expect it to be called "Nevski-Novichonok" and not "ISON". 

Hunting Pan-STARRS was difficult because the comet was always very low in the sky. I started in February before sunrise and got to image the comet while it was still invisible to the naked eye. This is one of the first shots of the comet next to an Iridium flare.

The comet was bright, and showed three main jet-streams in a fan-shaped tail. It was a nice view with binoculars or a telescope as the comet coma was very bright. In this photo Pan-STARRS is traveling the southern constellation of Indus. It was less bright than alpha-Indii a magnitude 3 star but close enough.

This panorama shows the comet in the context of the surrounding stars near dawn in February 2013.

The comet then moved to the evening and started to become brighter. On March 2nd 2013 it was already visible to the naked eye as a thin but bright object low in the western horizon. This wide view shows something similar to what I could see with my naked eye, the tail of the comet was surprisingly easy to see with the naked eye so it looked like a small hairline in the sky.

By March 5th Pan-STARRS was getting lower and brighter every day, it was now visible with the naked eye from light polluted places, I saw it from downtown Buenos Aires which is as light-polluted as any place can be. It looked lime a small eyelash in the sky. With binoculars the coma and the tail were very esy to see and very bright. It was already a nice show.

In the last reports the comet tail was becoming larger and broader so after perihelion the comet might become a very nice sight for North-Hemisphere observers. The comet is moving quickly to the North Hemisphere somewhere around March 7th or 8th it will become visible from lower latitudes north of the equator and it will move up so quickly that it will be next to the Andromeda galaxy on April.

This was certainly a very nice comet to observe and photograph it wasn't as big or as bright as comet Lovejoy in 2011 but it was without a doubt a nice show. I specially liked how people could see it with the naked eye and distiguish the comet nature as something different than a star. The comet is now moving to the North Hemisphere so I will be able to photograph it for just a few days, it was a very nice hunt and even if I really don't like its name I certainly liked its look.

You can check my gallery of photos of this comet here.



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