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Comet Pan-STARRS in March

This article appeared in the March 13, 2013 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

By Vinita Domier

Special to the Enterprise

Comet Pan-STARRS in March!

Everyone is invited to the Sat. March. 16, 2013, meeting of the Davis Astronomy Club at Explorit (3141 5th Street, Davis) starting at 7:00pm. You do not have to pay any dues to be a member of the Davis Astronomy Club. All ages are welcome to attend the featured presentation indoors, followed by the star party outdoors (weather permitting).

This month, we will discuss comets as there is a rare sighting of a comet in the night sky in March. The first of two very bright comets to be visible from the Earth made its closest approach to Earth on March 5, 2013, and is now becoming visible in the Northern Hemisphere. Comets, along with asteroids, are non-planetary solar system objects that are made up of ice, rocks, and minerals. These icy bodies develop beautiful tails when in close vicinity of the sun due to the evaporation of gases and dust in their nuclei. Few comets can be seen with the naked eye when they are close to the sun, though most are only visible with binoculars or telescopes.

Comet C/2011 L4 Pan-STARRS will be closet to the earth on March 5, 2013 and will be visible in the western sky after sunset beginning March 8 with an estimated magnitude of +2 or +3. On March 9, it will pass closet to the sun and develop a long tail. Best viewing is likely to be March 12-14 when it will be visible near a thin crescent moon. It will move northward each evening during March as it moves from being in front of the constellation Pisces to being in front of the constellations Pegasus and Andromeda. By the end of the March, it will be visible in the eastern sky just before sunrise, but will be fainter in magnitude.

Comet Pan-STARRS may just be the warm-up act for a potentially even more impressive comet due to arrive in November. If it is not destroyed by the sun during its closest approach on November 28, Comet ISON has the potential to be as bright as a full moon, possibly even visible in daylight. Comet ISON, discovered last year by two amateur astronomers in Russia, is expected to pass as close as 800,000 miles (1.2 million km) from the surface of the sun - significantly closer than the 27 million miles that Comet Pan-STARRS will pass during its closest approach on March 9.

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Explorit’s coming events:

•Summer Camp Volunteer Recruitment – Explorit is seeking volunteers from now through May 10, 2013 to assist with activities during Summer Camp 2013.  Volunteers must be age 12 to adult.  If you are interested in volunteering please email Lisa at lisaj@explorit.org for more information and a volunteer application.  

• Astronomy Club Meeting on Saturday, March 16 at 7:00 p.m. at Explorit at 3141 5th Street.

• Explorit will be open for Spring Break, March 25 – April 7 from 1:00 to 5:00 with the debut our new Beautiful World: Science and Art exhibition.  

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Explorit Science Center is located at 3141 5th St. For more information call (530) 756-0191 or visit http://www.explorit.org.  You can also “like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/explorit.fb or follow us on twitter at @ExploritScience.

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