Thursday, March 14, 2013

Comet Pan-STARRS

Comet C/2011 L4 Pan-STARRS has been all the talk among the amateur astronomy crowd these last few months.  While mostly putting on a show for our southern hemisphere friends, this bright comet did make a brief appearance this week in the northern hemisphere just following its close approach to the Sun on March 10th.  I spent the early part of the week camping and stargazing at Rancho De Farrar in Portal, AZ which will be the subject of the next post so missed the first few opportunities to observe this comet.

Last night I was leading a program at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter so I had a great view of the comet with our guests- many of whom had never observed a comet before.  I tried to capture some pictures of the comet while entertaining our guests, and the image at left is one of the better ones.  You can see immediately below the comet, the planet Uranus...if you want to see it labelled, click on the thumbnail image at right.  This image was captured with my Canon T2i and a 300mm lens at F4.  It is a 2 second exposure at ISO 400.

Tonight, after a long day at work, I climbed onto our roof to try and get one last look at the comet.  It is quickly descending into the twilight and it is likely that tomorrow night the comet will be very close to the horizon by the time it would be dark enough to be visible in binoculars.  I found the comet when it was about 10 - 12 degrees above the horizon and again captured a few images.  The picture below was taken with the same camera, but this time with a lens at 200mm at F4. It is a 2 second exposure at ISO 1600.


  1. Wonderful images, Alan! At least I can see the comet via my friends (have been clouded out for weeks...)

  2. Hi Alan- Nice catch on Uranus - there weren't many who (knowingly) caught it, and you did it on two consecutive nights! Wasn't the comet visible from Portal, or did the Chiricahuas block it? -Dean

    1. Thanks Dean- the comet was visible in binoculars for about 5 minutes before it set behind the Chiricauhua's...or maybe longer but once we spotted it, it set very quickly.

  3. Excellent shot from the roof Alan. The city lights are an interesting context with the comet hanging low in the sky. We caught it every night I was out west starting on March 10th. Excellent little comet, but it didn't change much save to move northward a bit along the horizon each day.