You may have already heard some buzz about Comet ISON, which has a very good chance of being a very bright and visible comet later this year (2013). But there is a decent chance that we have a preview naked-eye comet this month by the name of Comet PanSTARRS
PanSTARRS will make its closest approach to Earth (about 93 million miles) tomorrow – but it really will not be visible despite being at its closest state. Only a couple days later will it creep up over the Western horizon after sunset. On or about March 10th will it start to develop its ‘tail’. In the middle of the Month, the Comet should truly be visible. At time the Moon might interfere. PanSTARRS should be visible in the Western skyline for much of the rest of March.
The brightness of PanSTARR is estimated to be about as bright as a star in the Big Dipper. So if you can see the Big Dipper in your night sky, PanSTARR should be visible – albeit more streaky as a comet is want to be.
All of this comet discussion comes with a caveat – COMETS ARE VERY HARD TO PREDICT. A wise astronomer once said ” Comets are like cats – they have tails and do exactly as they please”. Many a comet has done something unexpected resulting in disspointing viewing: breaking up, not have the right tail orientation, etc. On the other hand, it could be even brighter than expected (-1 magnitude, not quite as bright as Sirius).
But hey, if you are out on a clear March night, it won’t hurt to glance Westward.
These links might have more information for your viewing enjoyment:
The March month of excellent planetary astronomy viewing continues tonight with a treat! Jupiter & Venus, which have been close in the early evening sky this month, are going to be almost paired up right together just after sunset this evening (3/13/2012). This is a fairly rare phenomenon and we will not see it happen again until 2015. This event can be seen with the naked eye even in light polluted regions – at least as long as the skies are clear. Be sure to take advantage of this event even if you don’t have a telescope.
This isn’t rare, but it isn’t really common either. This month (or at least this week) astronomical viewers can have a chance to see 5 planets in a single evening.
After sunset, Mercury will be visible just above the horizon in the West sky – and we do mean just. Trees and houses may block your view of Mercury. However Venus and Jupiter will be more visible right above them also right after sunset, nice and bright, along with Mars, which while still not in occultation is pretty bright, rising in the East just after sunset.
Later in the evening, Saturn will rise in the Eastern sky – this is the only planet you will need to wait for as it is not immediately visible after sundown.
Although Mercury may be blocked by buildings, all of these planets can be seen with the naked eye, even in light-polluted areas.
For your best viewing be sure to get an area with a clear horizon so that all the planets can be seen.
For the past two nights, Venus, The Moon and Jupiter have been appearing very close together in the night sky, appearing around sunset and making quite a spectacle of themselves. This evening (February 27th, 2012), they will continue with their triple-conjuction. Afterwards the natural drift of three objects with very different orbits will end this conjunction. In other words, the Moon goes away. Venus & Jupiter will continue to appear together just after sunset through much of March.
These stellar objects will appear in the West-Southwest sky just after sunset, with the Moon. These planets will be visible even in the most light-polluted of skies as long as you have a relatively unobstructed view to the West-Southwest. Take advantage!