Naked-eye comet offers glimpse of solar system’s edge

No telescopes needed. A comet making a close pass by Earth this week should be visible to the naked eye. When it fades from view in April, we won’t see it again for at least 110,000 years. Discovered in June…

No telescopes needed. A comet making a close pass by Earth this week should be visible to the naked eye. When it fades from view in April, we won’t see it again for at least 110,000 years.

Discovered in June 2011, comet C/2011 L4 (Pan-STARRS) has been visible for a few weeks from the southern hemisphere using small telescopes or binoculars. It is now moving into northern skies and will be seen there just after sunset starting on 7 March.

The comet should brighten and become visible to unaided eyes as it makes its closest pass by the sun on 10 March. It comes direct from the Oort cloud, so its billowing gases may offer a glimpse of pristine material from the edge of our solar system.

The comet serves as a herald for C/2012 S1 (ISON), a super-comet set to outshine the full moon in November.

Subscribe to New Scientist and you’ll get:
New Scientist magazine delivered every week
Unlimited access to all New Scientist online content – a benefit only available to subscribers
Great savings from the normal price
Subscribe now!

If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.

All comments should respect the New Scientist House Rules. If you think a particular comment breaks these rules then please use the “Report” link in that comment to report it to us.
If you are having a technical problem posting a comment, please contact technical support.