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So I went out to the Great Park tonight to look for Comet PanStarrs, after failing last night because of fog on the ocean. I even got a new app, SkySafari, which lets you look up comets and everything else (Comet C/2011 L4 = Panstarrs)!, and then it draws a green arrow pointing to whatever the heck you're trying to find. IT'S OVER THERE, YOU TWIT!

Pannstars is tricky. It should be naked-eye by now, but it's hanging so close to the sun that there's only a very short window after the sun goes down and the sun-glare fades before Panstarrs, also, sets.

I had nearly given up when, suddenly, through the horizon haze, I spotted it (or so I thought) with binocs. YES! YES! THERE IT WAS! Fuzzy little ball with faintish wisp going up.

Except that after writing my "I saw Comet Panstarrs!" post, I found this photo taken five days ago, and now realize that I accidentally a different comet. What I saw looked more like "Lemmon" in this picture: the distinct snowball on the end.

By Juri Beletsky, Observatorio de Las Campanas, Chile [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Nevertheless, comet Panstarrs SHOULD be visible to the naked eye this week -- barely -- and quite visible with binoculars.

-- You'll need a clear horizon directly to the west.
-- use web to find sunset time in your area.
-- watch sunset. Do NOT burn out eyeballs.
-- make mental note of a landmark on the horizon where sun set.
-- twenty minutes later, use binoculars to start sweeping the sky just above and to the left of that spot.
-- On March 12, comet will be a finger width to the left of the slender crescent moon, possibly even less than a finger, which should make it relatively easy to find. By March 16, it'll be just to the right. Here's a simple chart from NASA.

I will be trying again all week. There's an astronomy club demo at the Great Park on Friday with big telescopes, but the lines are always looooong. So, we'll see.

I sure hope comet ISON survives its close encounter with the sun later this year and puts on a show for us in November. If it doesn't melt away completely during its swing around the sun, it should be easy to see with the naked eye. Unfortunately, it's cutting the turn really fine -- only 100,000 miles above the sun's surface! -- so it could get vaporized. But if it survives, it may be the brightest comet since the 1600s.

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