© Credit: Ken Moore, used with permission.
Comet K1 PanSTARRS cruises through Hydra on October 1st. Note the twin opposing ion and dust tail.
Comet C/2012 K1 PanSTARRS, one of the most dependable comets of 2014, may put on its encore performance over the coming weeks for southern hemisphere observers
First, the story thus far. Discovered as a +19th magnitude smudge along the borders of the constellations Ophiuchus and Hercules in mid-May 2012 courtesy of the Panoramic Survey Telescope And Rapid Response System (PanSTARRS) based atop Haleakala on the Hawaiian island of Maui, astronomers soon realized that comet C/2012 K1 PanSTARRS
would be something special.
The comet broke +10th
magnitude to become a visible binocular object in early 2014, and wowed northern hemisphere observers
as it vaulted across the constellations of Boötes and Ursa Major this past spring
© Credit: NASA/JPL.
NASA’s NEOWISE mission spies K1 PanSTARRS on May 20th as it slides by the galaxy NGC 3726 (blue).
The comet is approaching the inner solar system on a retrograde, highly-inclined orbit tilted 142 degrees relative the ecliptic. This bizarre orbit also assures that the comet will actually reach opposition twice
in 2014 as seen from our earthly vantage point: once on April 15th
, and another opposition coming right up on November 7th
As was the case with comet Hale-Bopp way back in 1997, had C/2012 K1 PanSTARRS arrived six months earlier or later, we would've been in for a truly spectacular show, as the comet reached perihelion on August 27th
, 2014, only 0.05 A.U.s (4.6 million miles or 7.7 million kilometres) outside the orbit of the Earth! But such a spectacle was not to be... back in '97, Hale-Bopp's enormous size - featuring a nucleus estimated 40 to 60 kilometres across - made for a grand show regardless... fast forward to 2014, and the tinier nucleus of K1 PanSTARRS has been relegated to binocular status only.
© Credit: NASA/JPL
The position of comet K1 PanSTARRS as it passes its second opposition of the year. .