Observing comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) in early March, 2013

March 7, 2013

Comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) as seen from Castle Hill, Sydney on March 6, 2013 witha plane flying above. Photo and copyright Geoff Wyatt ©, all rights reserved
Comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) as seen from Castle Hill, Sydney on March 6, 2013 witha plane flying above. Photo and copyright Geoff Wyatt ©, all rights reserved

The astronomical world is focussed on comets at present. A couple of weeks ago it was comet Lemmon which caught our attention although it was more lime then lemmon given its greenish colour.

Now comet PANSTARRS has grabbed the limelight, as it were, and can be clearly seen in the western sky from Sydney immediately after sunset during early March, 2013. It should be possible to see it, using binoculars, until March 10 or 12.

You will need to have a clear view of the western horizon, with no trees, hills or buildings in the way. Find a nearby hill or a westward facing lookout to view from.

It is best seen using binoculars from just before 8:00pm until about 8:25pm. Initially, aim your binoculars due west and about 5-10 degrees above the horizon. Due west is the direction the Sun was when it set, so look that way. Your fist, when held out at arm’s length, is about 8 degrees wide so use your fist to measure upwards from the horizon to find the correct direction to point your binoculars. Now, slowly scan your binoculars to the left.

The comet will appear as a fuzzy star with a short tail pointing upwards. It will still be twilight so the sky will be bright. The comet sets by about 8:30pm.

From Australian locations other than Sydney the above method should also be sufficient to find the comet. Good Luck!

Update: March 7, 8:30pm. I have just been outside on the western terrace of Sydney Observatory with tonight’s Night Visit group and we have all seen the comet with binoculars. It was even visible by naked eye to many people! It is small but quite spectacular 🙂 Please book a place if you would like to join a Night Visit at Sydney Observatory or join a special comet-only viewing session.

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3 responses to “Observing comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) in early March, 2013

  • is it possible to see this at sunrise? I ask because I was in Western Sydney (windsor) and saw a green flash of the sky about 5.50am last Tuesday the 5th , which cut out my electricity. I though it was very odd but could this be what it was by any chance? Thank you

    • Hello Keiana,
      Thank you for your comment and question. No, it was not possible to see the PANSTARRS comet at sunrise on March 5 2013. Comets do not make the sky flash green, so you might want to arrange for an electrician to check your power supply!
      Regards
      Andrew.

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