Far beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto, where the sun is a pinprick of light not much brighter than other stars, a vast swarm of icy bodies circles the solar system. Astronomers call it the “Oort Cloud,” and it is the source of some of history’s finest comets.
One of them could be heading our way now. Comet Pan-STARRS was discovered by the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System atop the Haleakala volcano in Hawaii. Astronomers use the massive 1.8 meter telescope to scan the heavens for Earth-approaching objects, both asteroids and comets, that might pose a danger to our planet. In June 2011 a comet appeared, and it was named “Pan-STARRS” after the acronym for the telescope.
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. A comet and the Moon, together, framed by twilight-blue is a rare sight.
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