Comet C/2011 L4 Pan-STARRS

Now for a truly awful comet image.

C/2011 L4 PanSTARRS
An awful photo of C/2011 Pan-STARRS, SBIG STi and 100mm lens
But it is all I managed to get this evening. A to-do list that is much to long and vehicle trouble caused me to reconsider plans to observe at the VIS. Thus I planned to observe the comet from the driveway. This works well in some respects, using the mounting points in the driveway I can have the ‘scope reasonably well polar aligned in the daytime. This would make finding the comet far easier, I could offset from the Sun and have the ‘scope aimed at the correct coordinates before it was dark.

It had been wonderfully clear all afternoon. It was just as the sky darkened that trouble appeared, a band of high clouds sweeping in from the west. Noooo!

The comet appeared in the STi guide camera right on schedule, my coordinates less than half a degree off! Not bad with a manual telescope mount offsetting from the Sun. The clouds swept over the comet a few minutes later, just as the tail was beginning to appear in the darkening sky.

I did grab a few images from the guide camera and snap a few frames with the DSLR. The monochrome CCD on the guider managed slightly better shots despite a fairly bright sky. I managed a few more frames as an opening appeared a few minutes after that. It is still an awful image. The only reason I could tell it was the comet is that it remained centered as the clouds swept through the image. Take my word for it, the barely there spot at the center of the photo is the comet.

At least my vehicle is fixed, a new alternator in place. Try again tomorrow?

Comet C/2011 L4 Pan-STARRS

Like so many other amateur astronomers, I am eagerly awaiting the appearance of Comet C/2011 L4 Pan-STARRS.

The comet was discovered in June of 2011, by the Pan-STARRS survey telescope atop Haleakala, Maui. The comet will pass closest to earth on March 5th, at a distance of 1.09 au. Perihelion, the comet’s closest approach to the Sun, occurs early on March 10th UT.

Comet 2011 L4 Perihelion
C/2011 L4 (PanSTARRS) positions in the sunset as it passes through perihelion, chart for march 10th
For northern hemisphere observers the comet is still quite low, just rising out of the Sun’s glare. Over the next week it will rise above the sunset, and will be 12° above the horizon at sunset on Saturday, March 9th.

Initial predictions were quite optimistic with this comet, indicating a possible -1 magnitude for the comet. Reality seems to be somewhat more restrained, with a peak somewhere between magnitude one and two being more likely. Reports indicate that the comet has brightened to about 2nd magnitude, bright enough to be easily seen without optical aid.

Even more convenient, the comet will be well placed for observation this coming weekend. With new moon occurring on March 11th, this will be the prime weekend for a telescope outing. Amateur astronomers everywhere are already planing for this weekend. Our local club is no exception, expect a good crowd of telescopes to be at the Mauna Kea VIS this weekend. Myself? I will probably setup at the Substation site, just across the road from the VIS. The site offers a much better western horizon, which is blocked from the VIS by a line of pu’u, old cinder cones.

I will be taking photo gear, looking to get a decent photo of the comet. Stay tuned to Darker View to see the results if I meet with any success.

The latest orbital elements from the MPC

Another interesting opportunity will come on March 12th, when a slim crescent Moon will join the comet in the sky. A 1.4 day old moon, about 2% illuminated will be about 4° north (to the right) of the comet.