Fri, 17 Jun 2011
New comet may become bright
Don't hold your breath, but a newly discovered comet might just give us an observing treat in 2013.
Interestingly the comet was detected early although it currently still lies beyond the orbit of Jupiter.
A preliminary study of its orbit tells us that it will come as close to the Sun as Mercury in early 2013.
By February or March of that year it could be an easy object with the unaided eye and with a fine tail. However, comets are notoriously unpredictable so we make no promises!
The new comet is currently extremely faintand was found by an automatic telescope called Pan-STARRS 1 in Hawaii. This is the first part of a four-telescope instrument, the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, that is principally designed to find potentially deadly asteroids.
The comet, which has been labelled C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS), appears to have a parabolic orbit meaning that it is on a one-way trip past the Sun. It is believed to have been dislodged from a vast zone of icy debris called the Oort Cloud that is thought to circle the solar system.
Astronomer Richard Wainscoat, of the University of Hawaii, said: "The comet has an orbit that is close to parabolic, meaning that this may be the first time it will ever come close to the sun, and that it may never return."
The animation here is made from images of the comet taken on the night of June 5-6 from Pan-STARRS 1 on Hawaii. (Credit: Institute of Astronomy, University of Hawaii).
Added by: Paul Sutherland