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Matt's World Of Weather: CometCast, Let's Try To Find A Comet Tonight


Quick Update: From what I have been reading since last night, it is EXTREMELY hard to see. Nonetheless, I'll be out this evening looking

It is still very early for viewing the comet, but if you are lucky, Panstarrs maybe visible for those with an unobstructed view. I will have a full update in this Week's World of Weather (Wednesday @ 530pm, WITN) but until then here is some quick information to get things started.

The Basics
Viewing a comet is much different than watching say a meteor shower or the International Space Station come across. In fact, watching a comet is similar to that of viewing planets in our night sky. Panstarrs (the comet) is so far away from Earth that it will look stationary to the naked eye. Additionally, this comet won't be all that bright and only appear a short distance above our horizon. Early on, the viewing conditions will be poor, but they will improve through the month. Panstarrs will be "visible" through March 24th.

The Viewing Window
Panstarrs is a faint comet and only a small window exists for actually spotting it. Our window will be around dusk...after the sun sets, but before it is completely dark. Why the small window? Well if we look too early the sunshine filled sky will wash out the faint comet. Conversely, if we wait until it is completely dark the comet will have shifted too low to the horizon to see, falling behind trees and buildings. This is why I recommend waiting about a week when its location improves. Check out the image for more information.

The Problem
Initially (this week) the comet will only by 6 to 10 degrees above our horizon. For reference, 90° is straight up and 45° is halfway between straight up and the horizon. When you try to find 6° you are pretty much looking at the tree line and the view is easily obstructed this low (especially looking west). This is why it will be better to wait until next week. At its best, the comet will be 12° to 15° above the horizon.


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