Comet PanStarrs

Comet PanStarrs (otherwise known as C/2011 L4) is diving behind the sun now and will emerge for the Northern Hemisphere residents to see, possibly as early as March 7.  It will be low on the horizon, very close to the sun.  No one knows what will happen to the comet as it gets close to the sun – it might sizzle with a brilliant tail visible to the naked eye, or fizzle and just be a fuzz ball visible through binoculars.

A particularly interesting time will be just after sunset March 13, when there will be a tiny crescent moon that would be in front of the comet tail.  This computer-generated image shows how the moon and the comet will be aligned, although no one knows how the tail will look.  the rectangle is what an 85mm telephoto lens on a full-frame camera would show. (note that this will be daylight savings time, not shown on this image, so this alignment will be about 7:11 PM.)

If the comet is faint, it can still be captured by using longer exposures on a tripod.  The darker the sky, the longer you will be able to open the shutter.  If I were in town, I’d be tempted to shoot from Torrey Pines beach – along the bluffs away from the lights.  The comet should be visible for some time before and after the 13th, so you have lots of time to wait for the best timing and atmospheric conditions.

(I’ll be shooting this from Maui, from 7000 feet atop the Haleakala volcano, near the observatory where the comet was discovered.  It should have a pretty good dark view of the western horizon).

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