Stargazers may be able to view with the naked eye a bright comet on the western horizon at sunset on Sunday, the astronomy section of the weather bureau said.
The comet will appear like a stationary star with a tail and will be seen at a relatively low point on the horizon, said Dario de la Cruz, Pagasa Space Sciences and Astronomy Section chief.
The comet, known as Pan STARRS, or C/2011 L4, is expected to be visible from the Philippines, shining particularly brightly on March 10, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa).
“It may reach magnitude zero or brighter as it passes through perihelion within the orbit of Mercury on March 10,” Pagasa said. The perihelion refers to the point in the orbit of the comet where it is nearest the sun.
“It will be a fine binocular object and may become a bright comet that may be seen by the naked eye,” said Pagasa Administrator Nathaniel Servando.
The comet, Pan-STARRS, was discovered by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System atop the Haleakala volcano in Hawaii in June 2011, according to the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa).
In early March, “the comet will pass about 100 million miles (some 160 million kilometers) from Earth as it briefly dips inside the orbit of Mercury,” Nasa said.
“Most experts expect it to become a naked-eye object about as bright as the stars of the Big Dipper,” the US agency said on its website.
“Because of its small distance from the sun, Pan-STARRS should be very active, producing a lot of dust and therefore a nice dust tail,” Nasa quoted Matthew Knight of the Lowell Observatory as saying.
“However, it could still be difficult to see.
Observable in twilight
From our point of view on Earth, the comet will be very close to the sun. This means that it is only observable in twilight when the sky is not fully dark,” he added.
Spot it on March 10
In the west, “the best dates to look may be March 12th and 13th when Pan-STARRS emerges in the western sunset sky not far from the crescent Moon,” Nasa said.
But in the Philippines, Pagasa said the best date to try to spot the comet is on March 10.
Also this March, Pagasa said Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, can be easily spotted as “it will dazzle at magnitude -2.3 above the night sky.”
“It will lie among the stars of the constellation Taurus (the Bull). The largest planet speed-up with an eastward motion against the background stars will pass north of the light-orange star Aldebaran, the most prominent star of the constellation Taurus,” it said.
Venus, on the other hand, will be found at around 8 degrees in the east southeastern horizon and will be dazzling at magnitude -3.7. It will continue to slide down the horizon as the days pass by until it will be no longer visible for observation in the last week of the month, Pagasa said.