Astrophotographer Luis Argerich of Buenos Aires, Argentina, took this photo of Comet Pan-STARRS taken on March 2, 2013. He writes: "Easy to see with the naked eye from rural locations."
CREDIT: © Luis Argerich/Nightscape Photography
The Comet Pan-STARRS has brightened dramatically over this past week, putting it back on back on track for a potentially spectacular night sky display this month.
The comet is now seemingly very close early predictions of its brightness in the March sky, and it could conceivably be as bright as, or brighter, than a first-magnitude star when it makes its closest approach to the sun (called perihelion) on Sunday (March 10). That would make it clearly visible to the naked eye.
Comet Pan-STARRS, known officially as comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS), was discovered in June 2011 by astronomers using the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System, or Pan-STARRS telescope, in Hawaii. It is passing through the inner solar system this month and makes its closest approach to Earth on Tuesday (March 5), when it will be within 100 million miles (160 million kilometers) of Earth.
But the comet's brightness this month was in question because it was not meeting expectations earlier in the year.
Astronomers measure the brightness of objects on a scale of magnitude in which the objects with the smallest number magnitude are actually the brightest. Objects with negative number magnitudes are exceptionally bright. The unaided eye can detect night sky objects as dim as a magnitude +6 on the scale.