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A Comet Passes By and We Might Be Able to See It from Montana

Comet Pan-STARRS
A recent photo of Comet PanSTARRS from Mount Dale, Western Australia. (Astronomy Education Services/Gingin Observatory)
As I write this, clouds are rolling in over the Bitterroot Mountains and I can only guess if we’ll have clear skies at sunset March 12 and March 13.

Those are the two best times to catch a glimpse of a comet that has been visible from the southern hemisphere of planet (Australia, for instance. See photo).

Comet C/2011 L4 Pan-STARRS is passing by the planet in such a way that observers in our area only have a small “window of opportunity” (pun intended) to see it. And it might be pretty dim, so have a pair of binoculars ready.

The comet and the Moon will be near each other at sunset in Montana March 12 and 13. The best time to look, according to astronomers, is as soon as you can see the sliver of the moon on the horizon, right after sunset. As the sky darkens, the comet should be visible to the south of the moon.

You never know – the skies might be clear, the comet might be brighter than expected…whatever. It’s worth taking a few minutes and looking.

By the way, the name of any comet comes from who discovers it. This comet was first seen in 2011 by a telescope-camera-computer setup in Maui, Hawaii called the Panoramic Telescope and Rapid Response System – Pan-STARRS.

PanSTARRS was set up by the US Air Force and others to track Near Earth Objects – NEAs. Construction continues to increase its ability to see things that might slam into the Earth – like that little meteor over Russia earlier this year.

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