Thursday, March 7, 2013

Planning my Pan-STARRS vigil in Stellarium

The comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) has been putting on quite a show in the Southern Hemisphere, and tomorrow it is supposed to peak above the horizon immediately after sunset here in the North. If I spot it, it will be my first comet since 1997! If I photograph it.... ditto...

Following the instructions in this helpful video, I was able to add PANSTARRS to my favorite planetarium software Stellarium. Blog posts and articles that provide viewing tips are helpful (like this one) but I like the customization of looking at the altitude and direction at any given time based on my exact location.

My favorite diagram so far comes from Sky and Telescope, very helpful!

Fellow northerners have been looking for the comet for the past few days. With no reported sightings so far, I'm hoping tomorrow I will catch my first glimpse of the icy fuzz ball. According to Stellarium, it will appear very very low along the horizon just after sunset.

On March 7 the comet will be just 3º above the horizon 20 minutes after sunset

Although 3º isn't much to work with, I was able to photograph the conjunction of Mars and Mercury at about 3º above the horizon, so I'm going to give it a try and see what happens!

Estimating 10º altitude using a closed fist. Notice the altitude of Mars and Mercury between the towers in the photo.

On March 12 the comet will appear next to a 1.5% crescent moon! So cool!
As the comet climbs over the next few weeks, it will also get dimmer - so it's sort of a trade off. Because we just recently had a 10 day streak of overcast skies, I can't take any chances waiting around for the 12th. With work and traveling this weekend, I have to head out to get some photos at every opportunity!

Update: It was overcast this evening. Curses!

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