Monday, April 15, 2013

PANSTARRS

As expected, the PANSTARRS comet finally came into view from the northern hemisphere in the middle of March. It turned out to be a lot more difficult to see, it was so low in the western sky I was only able to see it twice before it begun to fade. Then the weather and a change in my work schedule ensured I was not able to see the comet for the past three weeks. It is now heading towards Polaris and will get higher in the sky even though it is also fading. I am not overly discouraged, it was the closet comet yet to the Sun I was able to observe, and it looked a lot like a rocket seen from a great distance through a camera attached to a tracking telescope.  I am just hoping the ISON comet will at least be moderately bright in the predawn skies this winter.
When this sketch was made, I was looking at PANSTARRS from a spot that overlooks Mobile Bay, which gave me about 45 minutes to watch the comet before it dove below the western horizon. I opted to take along my trusty 6-inch F/8 Dobsonian instead of the usual massive 15-inch due to the location and the fact time was of the essence. Sweeping side to side with the 24mm Explore Scientific 82 degree eyepiece, it wasn't long before I located it. It was much smaller than I expected and I was looking through  both thin clouds and a lot of skyglow from the fading twilight. The comet was very bright despite being near the horizon, with a strong yellow cast and a concentrated inner core. The beginnings of a tail projected away from the nuclear region much like the exhaust plume from a rocket at high altitude. I will sketch the comet again when I can bring my larger telescopes to bear upon it. To get a better view requires looking for it from a darker site than the parking lot behind a convenience store and a restaurant.