In the past few weeks, Comet PanSTARRS has rather been a difficult object to find and observe. This is due to the comet low altitude after Sunset and its position in the bright glow of twilight. Now the comet dims as it starts to climb up into darker skies.
It was hoped that C/2011 L4 PanSTARRS would hold on to its brightness after its close approach to the Sun on 10 March 2013. Unfortunately this is not the case; the comet is slowly losing its brightness as it pulls away from the Sun.
The Comet's head (Coma) is still a round feature with an increase in brightness toward the center. The tail has undergone some changes; it's now fan shaped with most of the fainter fan curve leaning towards the left. (This is the Dust Tail). The brightest part of the tail is still shooting up from the Coma and points away from the Sun (the Gas Tail).
The comet is now slowly moving northward and upward into the darker sky. This means the comet is up much later than before and is getting out of the bright glow of Dusk.
After 3 failed attempts on different nights; the author was able to observe the comet on the 4th try. The comet was visible in Giant Binoculars (25 X 100) about 50 minutes after Sunset. The comet had a roundish Coma with a straight tail. There was a faint hint of a yellowish color in the Coma. Within 5 minutes of finding the comet; the comet went behind two trees and was lost from view.
Best Chances To See the Comet:
For the General Public; there is a slight chance to see this comet providing they have a bit of astronomical knowledge. The fading comet will move by the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) on 2 April- 6 April 2013. The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) is visible to the unaided eye as a dim, elongated, small hazy patch of light if one knows where to look. The Andromeda Galaxy can be seen in handheld binoculars. On 2 April the comet will be to the lower left of M31 and should be just visible in the same hand held binocular view as M31. The comet makes its closest approach to M31 on 4 April. At that time the comet will be just below M31 and both objects should easily fit into the same binocular view. By 6 April the comet has moved well to the lower right of M31 and will probably be at the edge of the binocular view. At that time the comet is predicted to be much dimmer than M31 but still just barely visible to the unaided eye as a faint, small elongated streak. The Moon will rise later so it shouldn't interfere with the early evening view.
One should start looking in the NW about 1 hour after Sunset for the Stars of the Constellation of Andromeda. These stars will help you find M31 and hopefully the comet too. M31 will set about 2 hours after Sunset so try and pick an NW location with a low unobstructed horizon.
The decrease in the comet brightness is not going to help the unaided eye views of the comet. The darker skies should help to make the comet more visible in hand held binoculars. Let's hope that the comet doesn't decide to shrink or shed its tails or dim down rapidly. Giant Binoculars may be the best instrument for viewing the comet. This is not a favorable showing of the comet for our viewing area.
After the comet leaves the vicinity of M31, it will quickly dim down below the unaided eye detection. The fading comet will continue to move northward and be near Polaris the North Star on 27 May 2013. By that time the comet will have dimmed down so much it will out of range for most binoculars and most amateur telescopes.
Gary T. Nowak
Vermont Astronomical Society