Astrologers have called 2013 "The Year of the Comets." After the meteorite crashed into Russia in February, extraterrestrial flying objects are fresh in our minds. The latest space news, unlike the Russia meteor, is much safer. Starting Thursday, March 7, the Comet Pan-STARRS, known officially as C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS), will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere.
The comet has been visible in the Southern Hemisphere for months, and now Northern Hemisphere residents will finally get a look. Binoculars will help, but, weather permitting, the comet will be visible to the naked eye.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly where the comet will be visible, but here's the best advice: remember the point where the sun sets in the west, because about 30 minutes after it drops below the horizon, Comet Pan-STARRS should be at its brightest just to the left of where the sun set. It could be as bright as a star like those in the Big Dipper. Where the comet will be visible will change each a little bit each day and it will become less and less luminous as it moves away from the earth.
On March 12 and 13, the comet will be just to the left of a thin, crescent moon. Hopefully the weather permits pictures of what could be a beautiful site.
There are no worries about the comet coming anywhere near the earth like the meteorite that hit Russia. The comet will be about 100-million miles away from earth at its closest. Comets are mostly ice and gas and mixed with rocks and dirt, and while it could be devastating, there isn't much history of comets crashing into the planet.
For those who can read astrological maps, check out Space.com's wonderful infographic on Comet Pan-STARRS:
You can also watch Pan-STARRS online via the Virtual Telescope Project during its climax on March 15 here, at 17:00 UT.