Thursday, March 21, 2013

Celestial Field Trip: Comet PanSTARRS

A few years ago I wrote a monthly column for my local Audubon chapter's newsletter entitled "Celestial Field Trips."  The point of the column was that bird watchers (and dragonfly watchers as well) have some pretty impressive optics, and there are lots of things in the night sky that can be observed with the same equipment we use in the daytime to view wildlife.  Binoculars are great for viewing star clusters, comets, and the Moon, while spotting scopes give even better looks at the Moon, plus excellent views of planets and distant galaxies.

Last week, Betsy and I had the opportunity to use our birding/dragonflying optics to view Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4), the latest comet to pass by the Earth.  This comet was just barely naked-eye visible, but in our binoculars it looked like the photo below that I found on the web.  It was a delightful sight, and we were able to share it with others who were hoping to see the comet as well.

Comet PanSTARRS as it appeared in Arizona next to the crescent Moon on March 12, 2013.

So when the Sun goes down, and birding and dragonflying are done for the day, keep in mind that your wonderful optics can open the universe to you every cloudless night.

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