Mid-March saw a good bit of interest in Comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS). As it approached perihelion the comet put on a good show for observers in the Southern Hemisphere. It was known PANSTARRS would, after its close passage to the Sun, become an object for Northerners to admire, perhaps naked-eye, and excitement grew.
After its March 10 perihelion, die-hard comet-spotters looked to the west every evening, hoping for an opening in the clouds. Most tries were met with disappointment. Sometimes an opening would appear and the comet would glow forth in the dimming twilight. Then, after the sunset of March 14, it seemed the weather would cooperate. Mostly-clear skies greeted observers and crowds gathered in several places affording views of a distant horizon. One such place was Mapleside Farms, an orchard and restaurant in Brunswick, Ohio. The view from their parking lot is splendid, with the terrain dropping away rapidly to lowland orchards and a miles-wide valley. Astronomer-folk, including a group of CAA members, and the curious stood transfixed watching the western horizon, waiting for the sunset to fade, hoping distant clouds would remain far off.
Eventually, around 8:30 PM, observers began to pick out the comet from Earthly twilight, cloud-streaks, and jet contrails. “Does the comet blink?” someone asked, apparently seeing a far-away aircraft. I don’t know if they were serious. The first to spot and the only viewers to see PANSTARRS did so through binoculars and/or digital cameras. For us, the little comet was just a notch too dim to pick out with the unaided eye. Through binoculars, PANSTARRS had a small and well-defined nucleus and a lovely, cone-shaped, feathered tail. Overall, because of its low elevation, the comet had a golden coloration. Observing time in Brunswick was brief. Not long after first sightings, PANSTARRS began fading in and out as thin bands of clouds floated over the area. “I expected the comet to move faster,” commented one gentleman. Finally, just before 9:00, after only 20 to 30 minutes of visibility, it was gone. Casual visitors who did see PANSTARRS seemed excited. It was probably the first comet they had ever seen and was proclaimed as “awesome!”
Comet PANSTARRS images shown here were created and shared by CAA members. In many cases we have modified their original efforts a bit to present via this Web site. As a matter of style, we have settled on an all-caps, non-hyphenated form for the name. PANSTARRS is a non-periodic comet discovered in June 2011 using the Pan-STARRS telescope located near the summit of Haleakala, on the island of Maui in Hawaii. Pan-STARRS stands for: Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System. Because Pan-STARRS is used in cometary discovery, other comets also bear the program moniker. Wikipedia on Pan-STARRS.