02.05.2012 change 02.05.2012

Astronomer: in 2013 we might be able to admire the great comet

PAP/EPA © 2012 / GEORGI LICOVSKI PAP/EPA © 2012 / GEORGI LICOVSKI

The comet Pan-STARRS (C/2011 L4) recently gained brightness faster than indicated by ephemeris, and in one year it could become one of the brightest comets in recent years, told PAP Dr. Arkadiusz Olech of the Astronomical Center PAS in Warsaw.

The astronomer reminded that the Pan-STARRS comet (C/2011 L4) was discovered by an automated Pan-STARRS project telescope with a mirror diameter of 1.8 meters, located in Hawaii. At the time of discovery the object’s magnitude was given as only 19, 150 000 times weaker than the weakest stars visible to the naked eye.

After calculating the preliminary orbit, it turned out that the comet was very far from the Sun and it would reach the apsis (the point of least distance from our day-star) on 10 March 2013. Even now, the comet is in orbit around Jupiter and it is a weak object with 14 magnitude.

"However, two things are important. Firstly, already after the initial orbit calculation, it turned out that in March 2013 it may become a bright object. Secondly, in recent months, the comet’s brightness increased much faster than indicated by the first ephemeris. As a result, according to the current conservative estimates, in March 2013 the Pan-STARRS comet (C/2011 L4) can have magnitude of +1 to -1, shining as bright as the brightest stars in the sky" - emphasised the scientist.

He admitted that there were still more optimistic estimates, according to which the brghtness could can be much greater. "In such case, this would be one of the brightest comets in recent years, similar to the spectacle brought five years ago by the McNaught comet (C/2006 P1)" - he said.

Dr. Olech said that the comet would reach the greatest magnitude in apsis, when in the sky it would be only 15 degrees from the Sun, so it would disappear in its light. This distance, however, will grow and around March 20 it will already reach 20 degrees, and at the turn of March and April 30 degrees.

"In Poland, around March 20, 45 minutes after sunset, we will find it about 10 degrees above the western horizon. If current estimates are confirmed, it should be easily visible to the naked eye" - said the astronomer.

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