Monday, March 11, 2013

Comet PAN-STARRS: Missed Opportunity

Comet PAN-STARRS in Western Australia after sunset

Last time I saw a comet was 16 years ago. It was the summer of 1997 and I was still a high schooler at that time. That comet - Hale-Bopp , was such an spectacle that it opened my eyes at that time to the wonders of the cosmos and of which made its way to my consciousness as one of the most cherished times of my life. 

Comet Hale-Bopp as it shows in April 1997, considered one of the most spectacular comets of the 20th Century

The past few days would have been more interesting and would have been exciting if not because of the fact that the latest comet is difficult to get a glimpse with. The comets name is PAN-STARRS. It is named from the observatory that first discovered it.  The comet was discovered using the Pan-STARRS telescope located near the summit of Haleakala, on the island of Maui in Hawaii.

If you have not seen any comet in your life, better be ready since there is another great comet approaching our inner solar system and it is hoping that it would also give us a spectacular show every night within the next few months. That would be Comet ISON. 

A comet is a small chunk of ice and rock that when is near the Sun, it shows off a tail, this is because of the solar "wind" blowing off the dust and ice particles off the comet and into outer space. Most of these objects comes from the farthest reaches of out Solar System, most of them comes from a place beyond the orbit of Neptune and most of the times beyond the Kuiper belt itself. A place called the "Oort Cloud" which is very, very far from Earth. 

It is said that hundreds of these comets enters the Inner solar system, though only a few are bright enough to be noticeable on Earth. The ones being noticed, only a few have been designated "Great" comets, these are the comets that a big and very bright, though naming a comet as a great comet declined in the 20th century. Nowadays, comets are being named from the person who discovered it, or sometimes the person who has calculated its orbit, and at some instances the equipment or telescope observatory that first observed it. In some instances the comet is named from several persons, like Hale-Bopp. 

I can't wait for the next great comet of this year 2013. And I am hoping I will be able to see many more in our lifetime. I may not be able to see PAN-STARRS, but that does not stop me from seeing many more.

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