I’ve managed to grab a few more photos of Comet PANSTARRS, amazingly.  It is now almost overhead for UK observers at midnight, drifting silently up the handle of the Little Dipper, away from Polaris, a shadow of its former self. Ah, the memories we have of it shining in the sunset sky, gliding towards M31, a naked eye, fan-shaped smudge… It looks nothing like that now, in fact I couldn’t even find it with my binoculars, but it has been captured on some long exposure photos  I took. That long anti-tail is still there, but oh so faint now… These latest images were taken with my Canon EOS 300 DSLR, through a standard 50mm f1.4 lens, and the camera set to 800 ASA with exposures of around 15 seconds. I stacked several together with special software to bring out the comet a bit. I know they’re not much to look at, and aren’t scientifically useful or even interesting, it’s just fun – and a little touching, to be honest – to be able to photograph PANSTARRS again as it heads away from us, returning to the cold depths of the solar system…

PANSTARRS May 30th a

PANSTARRS May 30th b

PANSTARRS May 30th c




Well, it just goes to show, doesn’t it? I thought I’d take my last photos of Comet PANSTARRS, but I was wrong. The comet was, you’ll remember, a naked eye object back in April, and I took loads of pictures of it then – scroll down this post to see them – but then it started to move away from us, and fade, and I resigned myself to not seeing it again with my modest equipment. However…

The other night – after watching the long-awaited triple planetary conjunction (see my “Cumbrian Sky” blog for a report on that) – I was looking at the latest, glorious images of PANSTARRS being taken by advanced amateurs and professionals, and marvelling at its record-breaking anti-tail, and wondered (ever the optimist! ha!) if it was within reach of my camera … So I headed out into the night, camera on its tripod, and gave it a go. Because PANSTARRS is now very close to the Pole Star, Polaris, I told myself that it would be possible to image it with my gear, with the camera set to a high ISO and a fast lens, because I should be able to take longer than usual exposures, taking advantage of the reduced degree of movement of objects close to Polaris. I knew something like this gorgeous image, taken by SKY AT NIGHT presenter and legendary astrophotographer Pete Lawrence, was waaaay beyond my capabilities…

pete lawrence 7deg tail

…but I figured what the heck, it’s not like we waste expensive film nowadays is it? So, over to the park I trotted, just to see what happened.

I could *just* see the comet through binoculars, looking like a very thin streak of faint light to the upper right of Polaris, but it wasn’t easy, and a combination of brightening moonlight and the light pollution from streetlights around the edge of the park didn’t help. but I took some pictures, setting the camera to 1600ISO and trying exposures of 15 to 20 seconds or so, and this is what I got…


Hideous, I know! And a stupid ***** vapour trail in the way too! If I’d gone out twenty minutes earlier that wouldn’t have been there, and the comet would have been in clear sky, and a lot easier to photograph, but never mind… (grrrrr!) But even so, look, the comet is there! Not much to look at, but definitely there. So, I took a dozen or so pics, with the intention of stacking them in the computer, and went back happy, and got to work on the images…

As it turned out the images were not really suitable for stacking. Very noisy, not much detail, and reduced in quality due to them being in JPEG format, but I had a go in Photoshop, and have to say I’m really pleased with, and amazed by, the results. See what you think. I’m not suggesting for a moment that these images are scientifically valuable, or useful, they’re just images..!


That’s the comet in the middle, the vertical streak. Above it that grey arch is a vapour trail, I think, spreading out through the air. If that hadn’t been there the comet would have been much more obvious, I think, but never mind.

Now, it’s a bit hard interpreting that image, I know, so one trick astrophotographers use is to reverse an image and turn it into a negative. That makes subtle details and features pop out. When I did that to my images of PANSTARRS, this is what I got…


Let’s just add some labels to that…

PANSTARRS neg stack labels

You know, I’m really pleased with that. The comet’s long anti-tail is clearly visible. It’s a photo I honestly never thought I’d take, so yes, very pleased.

With a little more work I managed to pull this view out of my cruddy pictures…

1PANSTARRS landscape enhanced

Now, I know many of you will think that’s pretty horrible… that vapour trail is ghastly, and the whole thing is grainy and just ugly… but there, in the centre, is Comet PANSTARRS again. That’s the comet I watched grow brighter and brighter, and climb higher and higher each night, back in March and April. I don’t care if that’s an ugly picture, I’m just delighted to see it again. 🙂

I’ll definitely try this again, but will be taking the good advice of my astrophotograohy expert friend Simon White who has advised me to take RAW images and is going to show me how to stack images properly too. I’ll also find a much darker site – and wait until there are no hideous vapour trails in the way, too..!


Comet PANSTARRS is fading now, a shadow of its f0rmer self, but if you make the effort to go and look for it it’s still visible through small telescopes and can still be photographed with a fast lens and a long exposure. Here’s an image I took of it on May 2nd – actually it’s several exposures, stacked together using the DEEP SKY STACKER freeware program which I’ve been tinkering with and getting extremely frustrated with too! This is definitely better than I was getting with just single shots, but I’ve a ways to go before I can claim I’m getting anything pretty!


The comet is clearly visible top and centre , but here’s a zoom in to show it slightly better…


Reasonably pleased with that but I know I can do better. WHEN I might be able to TRY, now the rubbish weather has set in again, I have no idea…

If you’re a northern hemisphere dweller and looking for, observing and photographing Comet PANSTARRS has given you a taste for comet hunting, there’s good news! You won’t have to wait until ISON appears in our dawn sky in August to try again, because another comet is now becoming visible for northern observers. Comet LEMMON surprised and delighted observers Down Under back in March, when it suddenly decided to glow green and grow a very pretty tail. Just do a Google Image search for it and you’ll see why it impressed so many people. Well, LEMMON has now hauled itself up into the northern sky, and is visible before dawn in the east, beneath one of the most famous star patterns in the northern heavens – the Great Square of Pegasus. And to make it even easier for us to find it, LEMMON is just going to drift up along the side of the Square, following a parallel track. And TOMORROW morning (May 6th) it will be in the same area of the sky as a beautiful slim crescent Moon, making it even easier to find! Here then are your finder charts for Comet LEMMON for the rest of the month. But be aware that it’s going to be faint, almost as faint as PANSTARRS, and may or may not have a tail by the time you read this. But you should definitely look for it, and try photographing it, if you get a chance. More great practice for ISON..!

May 6 near Moon 2

May 8

May 12

May 17

May 27

Good luck!


Amazingly I’ve managed to sneak in a couple more viewings of PANSTARRS since you last visited! The comet is so, so faint now, I actually couldn’t find it in binoculars – too many faint, confusing stars around it – and I was only sure I’d found it in my telescope by checking photographs  I took at the same time, but yep, there it was. She’s not done yet…

On April 29th I managed to spot PANSTARRS from my favourite observing site, the ruins of Kendal Castle. It wasn’t a perfect night by any means, but it was dark enough to let me spot the comet with my trusty 4.5″ reflector, and I took a lot of photos as the darkness deepened and the incessant, horror film hooting of the castle’s sentinel – and, clearly, mentally disturbed – owl added to the atmosphere. When I got home the comet was slap-across-the-face obvious on my pictures, so I tried stacking a few. I’m still not doing it properly, I know I’m not, I should be getting much better pictures, but quite pleased with this under the circumstances…

PANSTARRS April 29 2013 frame

And then last night was a cracker of a night. Stella and I went up to Helsington church to try out my telescope’s long lost GoTo handset (it still  pworked, yaaay!) and to try andspot PANSTARRS again. I took a lot of photos first, to help me pin down the comet’s location, but eventually, after a LOT of frustrated sky sweeping, I saw it drift into my eyepiece. Very faint indeed visually, but still pretty.  Last night’s photos turned out better, I think…

May 1st frame

May 1  crop

I think… THINK… I may even have captured the anti-tail on that image, which would be exciting!

So, two things to do… firstly, find out how to use Registax properly to align and stack images like these. and secondly really crack how to work the GoTo so I can use it as a camera tracker too…


If you haven’t spotted PANSTARRS yet, or if you have seen it before but would like to see how it’s changed since then, where do you look for it this weekend?

PANSTARRS is faint now, no getting away from that. I doubt anyone anywhere has seen it with their naked eye for a week or so, and certainly not since the Moon joined it in the sky. So finding PANSTARRS will probably take a pair of binoculars, or a small telescope. Thankfully it’s going to be very easy to find the right area of the sky to track down the comet, because for the next week or so it’s drifting up through one of the easiest to identify constellations in the whole of the sky – CASSIOPEIA, which looks like a “W” of stars about a third of the way up from the north north-west horizon after dark.

So… Here’s a very simple finder chart for Comet PANSTARRS for the coming weekend. Just go out after dark, look to the NNW, and there, right in front of you, will be that W of stars, CASSIOPEIA. The comet is INSIDE THAT W, over on its right. Sweep that area with your binoculars and look for a faint, fuzzy,  blurry… thing… If you spot one, that’ll be the comet.


Good luck!

April 17th – Farewell PANSTARRS?

I managed to catch Comet PANSTARRS again last night, but only with my camera. From the castle, at 10.30pm, with the comet low in a misty, light polluted sky, I knew I had no chance of seeing it with my naked eye, but I thought binoculars might pin it down. Nope. No sign. Either the sky was just too misty, or there was just too much light pollution, I don’t know. Or maybe the comet is now actually so faint that, well, that’s it, the show is over, at least for people like me. Oh yes, there are still PANSTARRS photos being published over on, and they’re beautiful, showing that beautiful broad fan tail, but they’re being taken by people with telescopes and camera drives that allow long exposures to be taken. I think that probably PANSTARRS is now a “challenging” object for those of us with humble equipment and less than desert-dark skies, but that doesn’t mean we’ll stop looking for it does it? Oh no! Bring on the next dark, clear night!

So, I took a couple of pictures last night, and they do show the comet. Just. I had to really work to bring it out. Let me first show you one of the unprocessed pictures, with all the murk and light pollution and general cruddiness..


I know, horrible isn’t it?!?! Squint and you can just about see the “W” of Cassiopeia at the top there. But the comet? Well, it’s there, but unless you knew where to look you wouldn’t spot it. Now, let’s process that image to take away the orange glow of the light pollution…

PANSTARRS April 16 2013

Ah, MUCH better! Now the stars are easier to see, and that godawful orange colour has gone. The comet is on there, easier to see now – but where? Here, I’ll show you…

PANSTARRS April 16 2013 label

Yep, there it is! That’s PANSTARRS again, well past its best now, I know, but hey, every photo counts! I imagine that from a dark location, with no mist, I would have got a much better picture, and the comet would have been clearer, but I did the best I could. And I can’t complain can I? I mean, some people haven’t seen the comet at all. Will that be my last picture tho? I’m not sure. I’d like to grab at least a few more “dark sky” shots, but the way the weather is here in the UK at the moment – cloudy, very windy, no sign of things improving – that looks a bit of a long shot. We’ll see.


I’ve been having quite a few people – mostly young uns, or people who weren’t “into” astronomy back then – just how much better Comet Hale Bopp was than PANSTARRS. And that’s a good question, because while there are plenty of grizzled old timer comet observers moaning and whinging about how poor and disappointing PANSTARRS has been, it’s important to remember that PANSTARRS is the first comet many people have ever seen, so they’ve nothing to compare it with. So when they hear, or read, how rubbish it has been compared to Hale Bopp, they understandably wonder wht Hale Bopp looked like in comparison. Having seen both I knew how they compared, but it’s hard to explain. Much easier to show. So, what I did was take one of my recent images of PANSTARRS shining close to M31 and superimpose on it an image of Hale Bopp, to the same scale. Luckily I was able to do that because when it was in the sky in April 1997, Hale Bopp passed quite close to M31 too, so matching up the views wasn’t too hard. So, here you go – imagine Hale Bopp and PANSTARRS in the sky at the same time, how would they compare? Like this… (and by the way, my usual disclaimer applies, this is just a bit of fun, I’m not claiming 100% accuracy…)


Wow, that’s quite a difference in size, isn’t it? Brightness too. Remember we were hoping originally that PANSTARRS might develop into “Hale Bopp 2”. It didn’t do that, sadly, but what a sight we would have enjoyed if it had…

What about the future? What about ISON? How much better that PANSTARRS might it look, if it behaves itself? Well, many people are suggesting ISON might be “another McNaught”, i.e. a comet very like the spectacular comet seen by southern hemisphere observers a few years ago. If it does turn out – and turn on – like that, what would it look like compared to PANSTARRS and Hale Bopp? Well, again, just for fun, and without any claim to being 100% accurate, I thought I’d add a “roughly to scale” McNaught to my PANSTARRS vs Hale Bopp mock up, to give us a glimpse of what ISON might look like in comparison, if the comet gods smile kindly on us…


Oh look at that… that would be nice, wouldn’t it? Cross your fingers everyone..!

In the next post I’ll show you where you will be able to find PANSTARRS for the rest of the month, as it fades and flies away…

April 6th – Catching up…

Since my last update I’ve had another three great nights of PANSTARRS observing and photographing – and my photos are dramatically different now (and much better, I think!) because I invested in a new lens, a much ‘faster; lens than any other in my bag, and that’s allowed me to take photos I haven;t been able to so far. It’s added a whole new dimension to PANSTARRS’ appearance in my sky.

On April 2nd, the evening after the previous post was written, members of the Eddington AS gathered again up at Helsington Church to take advantage of a wonderfully clear sky.  Again it was bitterly cold, and we were all wrapped up like eskimoes, but the comet looked lovely. Here are my best pics from that night…

Apr 2 a

Apr 2 EAS L4b

Apr 2 L4 M31

And the next night, April 3rd, was clear too! This time we had around half a dozen telescopes gathered at the church, and the sky didn’t disappoint, it was crystal clear from sunset until around 11pm. And by now, as you’ll see from the next batch of photos, the comet and the galaxy M31 were very close together…

Apr 3

For the very first time I tried stacking some of my photographs together, hoping to bring out details hidden in the individual frames, I’m not sure it worked, but here they are anyway…

Apr 3 stack 1

Apr 3 stack test 2

Apr 3 bw

Apr 3 bw close

I’ve inverted the colours of the previous black and white image there, in order to bring out very faint detail on the image, and I’m every pleased with how you can clearly see how broad the comet’s tail is…

The next night was horribly cloudy, probably the universe’s way of saying GET SOME SLEEP!!!!!!!!!!! But last night, the 5th, rewarded us with some lovely gaps of starry sky inbetween tidal waves of cloud, and I managed to grab a few more pictures…

Apr 5 2013 L4 M31

Just compare that pic to the ones taken above and you’ll see clearly just how much the comet has moved in a few days…


I thought it might be fun to make a picture showing how the comet had moved against the background stars… here it is, very crude and really just a bit of fun…

2 3 5 april 2013

That shows the comet’s position relative to the background stars on the 2nd, 3rd and 5th of April,

50/50 forecast for tonight. so we’ll see what nightfall brings… 🙂

APRIL 2nd – Getting closer…

Another fine night’s comet observing from Helsington Church last night,with Stella, Carol, Simon and myself taking advantage of stunningly clear skies to observe and photograph Comet PANSTARRS. We were joined by quite a few would-be comet hunters too, and it was great to be able to show the comet to people who really wanted o see it but didn’t really have a clue where to look.

And we need to get something straight, I think.

Comet PANSTARRS is *not* a disappointment. If it had come out of nowhere, with no build up and no expectations, we would all be raving about it. With its bright head, lovely fan tail, and collision course with M31 path across the sky it’s a joy. But as soon as it was discovered we were all hoping it would be another Hale-Bopp. That didn’t happen, but as a  comet in its own right PANSTARRS is a beauty – for people lucky enough to live somewhere really dark, or people who make the effort to get away from their light polluted homes and find somewhere dark to look for and at it from. For anyone who can’t be arsed to get off their sofa and find somewhere dark, PANSTARRS might be a disappointment. But for people who find a dark lay-by, or church car park, or playing field or park, PANSTARRS is a wonderful sight, and I know I’ll look back on it very fondly when it vanishes from my sky…

But back to last night. It was a stunningly clear night, stars spattering the sky, and PANSTARRS was hanging beneath M31 in the NW sky. We all went crazy taking photos, and here are some of mine…


Look at that!!! PANSTARRS just beneath M31!!





At the weekend the comet and galaxy will be *this* close together. They’ll hopefully look something like this…

M31 L4 mock up

Can’t wait..!

APRIL 1st 2013 – Galactic Fly-by Imminent…

Comet PANSTARRS is fading now, there’s no doubting that. But one of the most interesting acts in its performance is just ahead – a fly-by of one of the most famous and beautiful objects in the whole of the night sky: M31, the Andromeda Galaxy.

Lots of people are making a lot of this, and yes, it is exciting for amateur astronomers and comet watchers, but non-astronomers who are expecting a close encounter between two dazzlingly lovely objects in the night sky are in for a big, big disappointment. The galaxy looks like a tiny blur to the naked eye, and a larger, slightly brighter blur in binoculars. The comet looks like an even smaller, fainter blur in binoculars, and is now quite hard to see with the naked eye from anywhere that’s not very dark. So, what we’re talking about here is a “close encounter” between a small blur and an even smaller blur. Not exactly eyeball-burning stuff! BUT, THAT’S NOT THE POINT! It’s a comet and a galaxy shining close together in the sky, and that doesn’t happen very often, so it’s something you should make an effort to see.

How? Where? Well, I’m preparing some charts to answer those questions for you, and they’llbe up tomorrow or the day after, in good time for the weekend’s “fly by” anyway.

In the meantime, PANSTARRS is approaching M31, but is hard to see. Here’s a picture I took last night, on a break at work…

Mar 31b

Er… what? Ok, let me add some labels…

Mar31 a2

So the lower smudge is going to fly up to and pass the higher smudge. 🙂

But that’s a couple of days ahead, so I’m going to finish this post with some worked-on images from Sunday morning’s castle photography expedition…

PANSTARRS and Kendal Castle 3bw

PANSTARRS and Kendal Castle 2bw

MARCH 31st 2013 – Good Things Come To Those Who Wait…

I know, I’d heard that before too, and never believed it. Usually all that happens to me when I wait is *nothing*… I just *wait*… but last night, and this morning, that proverb was actually pretty accurate…

Let’s re-wind a bit. I was back at work yesterday afternoon and evening, so I was unable to head out away from Kendal and find somewhere dark to observe PANSTARRS from – so of COURSE the sky was absolutely 100% clear!  But you know me, Mr Optimist, so on the off-chance I’d be able to take some pictures during my break I took my camera and tripod to work, just in case…

And thankfully I was allowed to take a late break and go out to take some photos! Only having half an hour I couldn’t go far, there was just enough time basically to go around the corner, find a convenient shadow to stand in, and try a few frames. And, ironically, they turned out to be some of the best pictures I’d taken so far! The comet was pretty low by the time I got out, barely scraping the tops of the bushes next to work, but it looked really pretty in binoculars – fainter but larger? – despite the surrounding light pollution…

PANSTARRS M31 March 30th 2013s

Now, yes, that’s good, I’m pleased with it, but ever since I first heard about PANSTARRS coming to my sky there’s a photo I’ve really, really wanted to take – the comet shining above Kendal Castle. And when I learned that at Easter the comet would be in the morning sky, close to the galaxy M31, all the pieces slotted into place…The Photo was there for the taking. All I needed was a clear sky one Easter morning…

Well, the sky stayed clear all evening yesterday, so as I walked home at ten pm I decided to just not go to bed, but just stay up instead and go up to the castle to get my photo. So, at 2.30am I was walking up that hill again, with my camera gear, hoping that my photo was there waiting for me…

At first the comet was hard to see, little more than a tiny blurry smudge, but I knew that if I walked into the castle ruins they would block the local light pollution and make it easier to see. And it did. Once inside the castle the comet was much more obvious, and I wandered around for about twenty minutes, trying to find a sweet spot for my picture – there.

Set up the camera and tripod, pointed it towards the castle, and… click…

When the preview image appeared on the screen I almost let out a little yelp of happiness. There it was, the comet, small and faint but most definitely there, and beside it the gentle, oval glow of M31… Here it is after processing…

PANSTARRS and Kendal Castle 1

Oh, look at that… 🙂 There it is, right there, the comet, with the oval glow of M31 next to it, right above the castle…


Having taken that, time to mess about a bit..!

PANSTARRS and Kendal Castle 2

And how about a self portrait, me, the comet, the castle and M31..? Oh go on then…

PANSTARRS and Kendal Castle 3

Note how the sunlight reflecting off the almost Full Moon has brought out the natural colours of the grass and stones in the picture…

I spent about an hour and a half wandering around the ruins, taking one photo after another, and I haven’t processed them all yet, so there’s more to come from this pre-dawn expedition. But for now, one last photo – M31 and Comet PANSTARRS shining together above the orange lights of the Auld Grey Town of Kendal…

PANSTARRS M31 and Kendal s

So, that was quite a night! But, without seeming too greedy, there’s an even better photo I want to take. On April 5th and 6th the comet and galaxy will be side by side in the sky. Imagining that above the castle…now that would be a picture, wouldn’t it?

Bring it on..!


MARCH 30th 2013 – Well, it had to happen…

…we had a clear night and were able to see and photogtraph Comet PANSTARRS for HOURS!!! YES!!!! <does happy dance> <<not really, bit dangerous sitting at a desk with cup of hot coffee on it, but you get the idea >>

Not last night. Oh no, last night was one – another one – of those frustrating nights that started off looking very promising, with much more clear sky than cloud, but of course when we arrived at our observing site the cloud rolled in, leaving teeny tiny gaps for us to peer into and search for the comet. Nothing.

But… after what happened on Thursday night we really can’t complain. because we went up to Helsington Church and for a good hour and a half (that’s an ETERNITY in Observing PANSTARRS time!) were able to look at the comet in binocs and my small telescope, and take pictures, lots of pictures. The comet was not naked eye to me – well, I don’t think it was; the problem is it’s so close to the naked eye galaxy M31 now (close approach on April 5th, put it in your diary or on your phone) and close to quite a few naked eye stars too that there’s “something” there even if you’re not seeing the comet. But people I was with on Thursday night said they could see PANSTARRS naked eye, and I believe them, because others elsewhere are saying that too.

Anyway, it looked beautiful in my small telescope, like a “real” comet, with a head and tail stretching away from it. The tail really is more like a misty fan now, as long exposure photos taken by driven cameras show very clearly. I don’t have kit like that, I’m restricted totaking unguided long exposures, but I’m very happy with how mine turned out, and here are the best ones I took on Thursday night…






PANSTARRS March 28th 2013

Here’s the shot I wanted – well, almost. I really wanted to take a picture showing the comet and M31 in the same field of view, in anticipation of their April 5th close approach. And I did… kind of… almost… I had the camera aimed too low, so the galaxy is just at the top of the frame rather than nearer the middle, but it *is* there…

l4 m31 bw

… so I’m claiming that! 🙂

So, yes, that was a brilliant night, and both well-deserved and long-overdue, don’t you agree?!

I actually stayed up until 3am the next morning, hoping to see PANSTARRS *rising* in the north east, and – same old story – when I set off up to the castle (yes, at 3am) the sky was clear, beautiful and clear, apart from a low bank of cloud… you guessed it, in the north east…


And that cloud never dropped down far enough to allow me to see the comet, unfortunately, so I headed home again at just after 4, annoyed and frustrated a bit, obviously, but nowhere near as much as I would have been if I hadn’t had such great views of it earlier the previous evening!

Then last night… oh, so annoying again! I went out into the South Cumbrian wilds with my fellow crazy comet hunter Carol, and we staked out a position on a hill above a small lake where, as luck would have it, some people had started a small bonfire, creating a very photogenic scene which we were looking forward to adding a comet to in our photographs! But even as we set up our cameras and my telescope cloud rolled in from all directions, and we knew we were, to use a technical astronomical term, stuffed. Over the next couple of hours gaps in the cloud came and went, but never appearing in the right place, and we didn’t catch a glimpse of PANSTARRS…

But hey, Thursday night… brilliant…. 🙂

It’s been SO hard to see PANSTARRS from this part of the world that I’ve actually made a badge for UK comet observers who’ve been succesful. So if that’s you, feel free to print this out and wear it, or just add it to your website or Facebook page…! 🙂


March 27th – How to find PANSTARRS in the moonlight…

Finding Comet PANSTARRS now is certainly more “challenging” than it was even a week ago. Not only has it grown fainter itself as it moves away from the un, and us, but now there’s a big bright Moon in the sky after sunset too, further diluting its already-weak light. I honestly don’t think that a non-astronomer who simply goes out and sweeps the NW sky with binoculars after sunset will find it. Luckily, the comet is now in a part of the sky which can be located with the help of some stars, and quite easily too, once you get the hang of it. Here’s how.

First, simply looking for the comet half an hour after sunset is no longer going to work. You now need to be looking maybe an hour after sunset, when stars are starting to appear in the sky. So, imagine it’s tonight, your sky is clear, and you want to find PANSTARRS. What do you do?

Start by facing the north west, and look for a very distinct, small “W” of stars, all of about the same colour. The W is actually tipped over to one side, to the right, so it looks like two “V”s joined together – which is useful, because one of those Vs is going to be your guide to comet PANSTARRS! This is what you’re looking for – the constellation of “CASSIOPEIA”…

1j cass

Cassiopeia lies above and to the right of the constellation of ANDROMEDA, and that’s the constellation the comet is in now. How do you find it? You “star hop” using the lower “V” of Cassiopeia as the head of an imaginary arrow, pointing down to one of the brightest stars in Andromeda. Having found that star  with your naked eye, centre it in your binoculars then lower them, slowly, slowly, and a little to the right – and you’ll find Comet PANSTARRS there, close to a fainter star. This is what I mean (if the animation isn’t working, click on it, that should set it going…)


PANSTARRS is going to be in this part of the sky for the next couple of weeks, so once you’ve found it you can keep going back to it again and again…


As I said in a previous post, one of the dates many astronomers, especially those who take photographs of the night sky, have been looking forward to is April 5th, because that’s when PANSTARRS will be close to one of the most famous and celebrated “deep sky” objects of all – M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. They’ll be so close together on this evening that cameras fitted with long lenses will be able to photograph them in the same frame…


And by then the Moon will be out of the way too, leaving the sky dark enough for us to see PANSTARRS and its close galactic neighbour clearly in binoculars and small telescopes. I don’t think it will be visible to the naked eye by then, but I might be wrong. I hope I am!

So, that’s how to find PANSTARRS for the next week or so. It’s not easy, by any means. A faint comet, low in the sky after sunset, with a bright Moon in the sky at the same time? That’s the perfect recipe for NOT seeing a comet! But please, try, because one thing’s certain – if you DON’T look you’ll DEFINITELY not see it…

MARCH 27th – Remind me why we do this again..?

Oh PANSTARRS, PANSTARRS… I want to love you, I really do, but you’re making it so difficult. Why don’t you want British astronomers and skywatchers to see you? Why do you find the one single cloud in an otherwise clear sky and drag it over yourself like a duvet? What did we do to offend you?

It’s been a difficult couple of days for Cumbrian PANSTARRS hunters as you probably guessed.

On Monday night members of the Eddington Astronomical Society of Kendal went up to Helsington Church again, lured back to the gravel car park and its widescreen view of the sky by promises from weather forecasters and weather apps of a beautiful clear, starry, frosty night. And it did look promising when we got there. The Moon was blazing through the trees behind us, and large areas of the sky were indeed clear. But over there, in the NW, was this…


That cloud tormented us for a good 45 minutes, until it finally, grudgingly, drifted to the south just enough to reveal the comet, albeit briefly…


Quickly I trained the small telescope on it, and enjoyed a few moments looking at it before I announced that I “had” it and urged my observing companions to come and see. Some did, but others were a bit slow, and they missed it, because almost as quickly as it had emerged from the eveil cloud PANSTARRS retreated behind it again, but not before I managed to grab this photo…

PANSTARRS Kendal March 25th 2013

(If you can’t find it, look at the point in the sky indicated by the two red lines…)

And that cloud just… sat… there… covering the comet, absolutely refusing to show it to us. It was the most bizarre thing. The rest of the sky was perfectly clear at times, and now and again other small clouds appeared, moving quickly, but that ******** cloud just SAT there, staring at us, staring us down…


Clear sky tried to push in from the north, but the cloud resisted, pushing back, and the comet dropped lower and lower, hidden from view…



So, another hugely frustrating night, but I managed to get a couple of photos, and to see the comet through the small telescope again, so shouldn’t complain. But it was further proof that PANSTARRS simply doesn’t *want* to be seen from the UK< and really can’t wait to head off back into deep space.

But if Monday night was frustrating, last night – Tuesday 26th – was even worse…

I really, really want to get a photo of PANSTARRS hanging in the sky above Kendal. Pictures of it from Helsington are great, I’m grateful for all of them, but I just want one picture showing the comet above the place where I live, to make it more personal, you know? And last night looked quite promising for that. All day there had been blue gaps in the grey-white, and by sunset, again, large areas of the sky were clear and starry, so I headed back up to the castle yet again, ever the optimist, and as I set up scope and camera crossed my fingers for one of those gaps – which appeared to be growing larger, and linking together – to drift over the area of the sky PANSTARRS was lurking in…

But the odds were against me from the start. It was cold, bitterly cold, that biting cold that leaves your exposed skin feeling like it’s been slashed with a razor. And it was windy too, so windy that within moments of being set up both tripods were wobbling and shaking as they were buffeted by gusts coming from all directions. And, inevitably, none of the gaps in the clouds was going anywhere near the comet’s part of the sky…


Then it started to really go downhill…

The temperature was quite stupidly low by now, and my hands were chilled even through my thick gloves. The wind suddenly got a lot stronger, so strong that it blew my camera tripod over, and the SLR (thankfully not fitted with my big zom lens at that point! Phew!)  nose-dived into the grass like a Spitfire shot out of the sky. Luckily it wasn’t damaged, but soon after that the telescope toppled over too, so I packed that away quickly and restricted myself to just scanning the shrinking gaps in the sky with my binoculars, with my now-lowered camera pointing towards them, hoping against hope that the comet would peek out, just for a moment, just to let me get that one photo…


(Above: me, cursing – literally, you should have heard the language… maybe you did, the wind was strong enough half of Kendal probably heard me! – the Cumbrian weather.)

Nothing. The cloud thickened, the gaps knitted up, and I knew there was no hope of me seeing PANSTARRS at all. None.

Now, I’m mad keen on astronomy, and a dedicated observer, as I think you’ll have gathered from this blog, but I’m not stupid. I know when I’m beaten. There’s optimism and there’s blind idiocy, and last night I knew that the comet had beaten me, so I let it have the sky, and packed up and came home, to sit in front of the fire, eating a Creme Egg and drinking cider, with the cat on my knees and my toes thawing out.

Why do we do this? Seriously, why do we put ourselves through this torture? We’re let down so often, particularly here in the UK with our frankly sh***y weather. We look forward to astronomical events like this for months, often years, sometimes even decades, only to have them stolen from us at the very last moment.  It’s tempting to scream at the sky, to shout  “F- you!” at the Universe, to bang our fists on the ground and sob “It’s not fair!”, but there’s no point.

All astronomers learn at some point, it’s like an epiphany, the one fundamental truth of astronomy.

The Universe owes you nothing. NOTHING. It just Is.

Everyone feels a moment of rage and crushing unfairness when they miss something special, rare and important “up there” – a meteor shower, an eclipse, a particularly planetary conjunction, an aurora, maybe even a bright comet – and the first instinct is to scream and rant at the Universe, but there’s no point. The Universe isn’t listening. MOre to the point, the Universe doesn’t care. Shouting at a cloudy sky, angry at the Universe beyond the clouds, is absolutely futile The sea of glittering galaxies, stars and nebulae beyond the clouds doesn’t even know you exist. You’re like a single bacteria shouting angrily at a planet-sized ocean full of blue whales. Save yourself the hastle. Keep calm and just accept that all you can do is try again. And again. And again.

Because one day, or night, the Universe will reward you for your patience and loyalty, and show you something so wonderful, so beautiful, you’ll think you’re dreaming, and you’ll realise that all the disappointments and frustrations were the price you had to pay to see… *that*…

You’ll see the sky filled with brightly coloured auroral curtains and beams, swaying and swishing in perfect silence; you’ll see a Moon-bright fireball gliding across the sky, flaring and sputtering, tiny magnesium sparks trailing away from it as it takes your breath away; you’ll see a blood-red totally eclipsed Moon hanging above snowy mountains, or a mirror-smooth lake; you’ll see a Great Comet hanging above your town, its enormous tail stretching across the heavens like a WW2 searchlight beam…

So keep looking for PANSTARRS, if you haven’t seen it yet. or even if you have managed to catch a glimpse of it. Yes, it’s cold, yes the weather is so bad and so frustrating it could make Yoda swear. yes it is so faint and hard to see now that you almost have to shine a torch on it to find it. But it’s there, a comet is in YOUR sky, and if you persist, if you make the effort to drag your backside off that sofa and try to hunt it down, if you scan each and every gap in the clouds blotting out the western twilight sky eventually you WILL see it. Don’t give up and think “Oh, stuff it, I’ll just wait for ISON!” because you can’t be certain that ISON will be the spectacle we’re all hoping it will be.

PANSTARRS is there, and if you make finding it a challenge you’ll see it.

Good luck!






MARCH 25th 2013 – Another Wild PANSTARRS chase…

<heavy sigh>

You know, I love astronomy, I really do. But sometimes, just sometimes, I hate its guts. It’s given me so many wonderful, magical moments I couldn’t list them. But sometimes it seems determined to really, really hack me off. This is one of those times.

Comets used to be blamed for all sorts of wickedness and evil. Plagues, assasinations, wars, all were the fault of comets. We now know better, but I am starting to wonder if comets can bring bad weather, because seriously, ever since comet PANSTARRS swung up into the northern sky the weather has been sh- absolute rubbish. I honestly think an astronomical society on Titan would have more clear skies than we’re having recently. And when a clear sky appears – unpredicted by any weather forecaster or smartphone app – it completely clouds over again just as PANSTARRS is due to become visible. Or, even more frustrating, gaps in a mostly cloudy sky seem to actively swerve to avoid the area of sky the comet is in. I’ve never known anything like it.

Actually, I have, now I think about it. Exactly the same thing happens EVERY ******* YEAR when I’m trying to observe and photograph noctilucent clouds during the summer months.

Clearly I need to move somewhere with better skies and more astronomy-friendly weather. I don’t know, somewhere like Venus maybe…

Take last night. Big swathes of poster paint blue sky all day, coming and going, but promising a decent PANSTARRS-viewing opportunity after dark. Sunset arrives, and the sky totally clouds over. 45 minutes later, just as I’ve given up all hope, I stupidly/optimistically risked one final look out the window and saw the Moon! Gaps again! 5 minutes later I was headed up to the Castle, fighting against almost gale-force winds and icy cold, rucksack full of gear on my back, ready to see PANSTARRS again –

And of course, as soon as I got there the Moon vanished, ducking behind a monstrous billowing bank of squid ink black cloud, laughing at me for being so stoopid as to believe I’d had a chance of seeing anything. But I set up anyway, and took heart from the fact that over in the west gaps in the clouds were skirting around the area of sky PANSTARRS was in…


…and as I stood there, taking shelter from the arctic wind in the dark – and frankly, spooky as hell – ruins of the castle, I thought I was going to see something, surely…


When I packed up an hour and a half later, chilled to the bone and more than a little freaked out by the sound of the wind howling through the ruins of the castle around me, not a single gap in the cloud had drifted over PANSTARRS’ area of sky. One came close, so, so close, but I swear that just as it was about to drift over and reveal PANSTARRS to me it changed its mind, stopped dead, and went into reverse. Can clouds even DO that?!?!

I really thought I was going to get My Photo last night, the one I’ve wanted to take ever since I first knew PANSTARRS was coming – a photo of the comet over part of Kendal Castle. If things had worked out a little differently last night this…


…would have looked like this


Close. So, so close…

Yeah, I hate astronomy sometimes.

But tonight’s forecast (I now snigger, to be honest, whenever I use that word) is very promising, with frost exoected overnight and into the morning, suggesting clear skies from sunset to dawn, so tonight we’re off up to Helsington Church again, and if I’m feeling particularly adventurous I may even get up at stupid o’clock tomorrow morning to try and see the comet in the morning sky too! Of course, what will probably happen is that the promised clear sky will actually be cloudier than the water in a rugby team’s post-match bath, and PANSTARRS will stay well hidden, laughing at us from beyond the clouds, each moment getting a little fainter, becoming a little harder to see…

Yeah, I know, I’ll go anyway. Wish me luck!

MARCH 24th 2013 – PANSTARRS: Act 3…

Comet PANSTARRS is about to begin Act 3 of its long-awaited performance in the night sky.

Act 1 was its slow brightening in, and fall through, the southern hemisphere’s sky. Act 2 was its appearance in the northern evening sky and its close proximity to the Moon, fighting to be seen through the bright background glow of twilight. And now, Act 3 – PANSTARRS is starting to climb up out of that twilight glow, a little higher and a little further north each night, and it is edging towards one of the most famous objects in the whole of the heavens: M31, the Andromeda Galaxy.

At the start of April comet and galaxy will be so close together in the sky that they’ll fit in the same telephoto lens, and already astrophotographers (hi, Simon!) are drooling at that prospect. But although the comet is becoming visible for longer each evening, rising a little further from the setting Sun each day, it is also moving away from us and fading. BUT, our view of it might actually begin to improve now, as our line of sight to the xcomet changes and the tail “opens up” from our viewpoint. So, all in all, this is a very exciting time to be following PANSTARRS.

But, I’ll be honest with you, finding it is not easy. It is not bright enough to be seen with the naked eye from a town or city, although there are still people reporting it can be seen without aid from dark, country locations. Amateur astronomers, sensing the PANSTARRS show is entering its closing stages, are now making every effort to get somewhere dark to observe it from, and the photos being submitted to and displayed at show that it is actually a very pretty comet from a good location. But for most people finding PANSTARRS is a challenge at best, and a hair-tugging, growl-at-the-sky frustrating pain in the **** at worse. You have to be very patient to find it, slowly, slowly sweeping the low, NW sky with binoculars until it appears. But even doing that isn’t working for some people, who are getting so frustrated at not finding it that they’re giving up. If you’re one of them, what is the answer?

Obviously you need some kind of guide to help you locate the comet in the sky, and luckily you have not one but two of them within easy reach right now. In fact, if you look down from the screen you’ll see them, right there, on the keyboard or table right in front of you…



Oh yes. Your hands.

You see, astronomers use their hands a lot in their hobby. Not just for putting together the pieces of a telescope, or for carrying rucksacks full of cameras and tripods up hills to ruined castles, but for measuring (approximately) distances in the sky, typically distances between objects, such as the Moon and a planet, or two planets, or a planet from the horizon, things like that. That also means, of course, you can use them to help you FIND something in the sky if you don’t know exactly where it isitself, but you do know how far it is from something else you *can* see. And luckily, although it is faint, PANSTARRS is relatively close to something easy-to-see in the western sky – the planet JUPITER.

Here’s the view looking roughly west tomorrow evening, 7.45pm UK time. Your view will be pretty similar…

Mar 25 745pm

Now, looking at that you might think “Hey! Easy! I just find Jupiter, go down to the right, and there’s the comet! Easy! Thanks Stu!” and yes, you could try that, and you might get lucky and go right to it, but more than likely you’ll either stop short of where the comet is, or go past it. No. You need to know how far apart the planet and comet are. And astronomers use “degrees” to describe how far apart things are in the sky.

Ok, so how many degrees apart are the comet and Jupiter at the moment? Well, about 54 degrees, which is astronomy-speak for “quite a bit, but not too far”. Which doesn’t help at all, I know. If you consider that the Moon is about half a degree across, that means PANSTARRS and Jupiter are about 108 “moons” apart. Easy! No. Not easy. You try guessing how mnay moons apart they are without some kind of help and you’ll be nowhere near.

That’s where your hands come in…

You see, if you stretch out your arm your hand can be used as a very handy measuring guide for objects in the night sky. This chart shows what I mean…


Now it should start to make more sense! Now you can see that you can use your hand as a kind of astronomical ruler, to help you not only measure how apart objects in the sky are, but to find objects that aren’t clearly visible to the naked eye! Your hand is going to help you find PANSTARRS on the next clear night!

As I said, at the moment Jupiter and Comet PANSTARRS are about 54 degrees apart, and they will remain roughly that far apart until month’s end too. That means you can use your outstretched hand to “hop” between Jupiter and the comet, like this…

Mar 25 745pm hands degrees

Now that won’t lead you smack bang directly to the comet, but it will guide you to the AREA of sky the comet is in. Having measured out that distance, scan that area of sky for PANSTARRS, and within a few moments – if the sky is dark enough, of course – you’ll find it. I know, I know, you can thank me later… 🙂

So, having found PANSTARRS, take the earlier advice of slowly, slowly lowering your binoculars and noting mentally which tree, chimney or rooftop on the horizon it is directly above, then you’ll be able to go straight to it with your binocs or small telescope. You’ll also know exactly which direction to point your camera in, to take PANSTARRS portraits of your very own, which you can then submit to (or me!) for everyone else to see…

If you use that method you’ll be able to follow PANSTARRS as it glides slowly and silently towards that galaxy I told you about earlier. The following charts will show you how far apart the two objects are on certain dates. Aim your camera at this pairing and you’ll get some really nice shots…

Mar 25 M31 degrees

Mar 30 M31 degrees

Apr 5 M31

So, there you are – how to find Comet PANSTARRS over the next week or so without tearing out great hunks of your hair, or banging your head against a brick wall until it becomes a bloody pulp! And please, don’t give up on PANSTARRS. Yes, it’s challenging to find, but that makes actually finding it all the more rewarding! Yes, it’s a disappointment compared to what it might have been, but it’s still an *incredible* thing to see in the sky, and you don’t get the chance to see a huge space iceberg melting in the sunlight every day do you? So don’t believe the doomsayers and the pessimists and the whingers, just get out there, look for PANSTARRS, and keep looking for it until you find it. Because it might yet delight us. And if you don’t look for yourself, you’ll never know, will you?

MARCH 22nd 2013 – Picture round-up…

…and now it’s snowing. SNOWING.

Today is, according to the calendar, the second day of Spring, and it’s frakking ***snowing***. And somewhere over in the west, behind the veil of battleship grey cloud, beyond the swirl of snowflakes, no doubt being seen and photographed and swooned over by countless people in countless other countries, Comet PANSTARRS is glowing serenely, fanning out its tail, climbing ever higher into the sky, clawing its way up out of the twilight, eager to shine amongst the stars.

That’s it, I’ve had enough. I’m taking up stamp collecting. This will be the last entry to this blog. Thank you all for reading, I appreciate it, and good luck with the rest of your PANSTARRS-spotting –

No, I’m still here. I’ve been through this before, countless times, so many times you wouldn’t believe. Oh yes. Meteor showers, auroral storms, other comets, I’ve missed them all thanks to the wonderful Cumbrian weather. No British astronomer is ever alone, Disappointment and Frustration stand beside them as they set up their equipment and laugh at them as they watch clouds cover the sky…

Bitter? Me? Naah.

Oh well, nothing to do except use the time for something else! I know, let’s look at a couple of images of PANSTARRS sent in by readers of the blog!

Here’s a great image from John Merrell…


Oh look at that… that’s the night when PANSTARRS and the razor thin crsecent Moon were close together in the sky…. I missed that sight because of the weather, of course. In an email, John told me:

Took this on March 12 from Big Sur, California (just got home from the
trip tonight). Tried again on the 13th but was met with fog 😦

Taken with Canon 7d. 210mm, f/5.0, ISO 400, 4 seconds at 8:11 PM. Given
the camera’s crop factor, that would be 336mm lens on a full frame
camera. I was using a 100-400 zoom and trying to keep both moon and
comet in the frame.”

Thanks John!

Another reader, Bambi Leigh-Hale, also from California, sent me a really lovely email (thanks again!) and a photos she’d taken of the comet too. And, well, this is just brilliant… she took a photo of PANSTARRS at just about the same time as John did…

leigh hale

Bambi told me that was taken from the lawn at the front of the famous Griffith Observatory in LA, on their “Moon Night”. You can see some more of Bambi’s PANSTARRS photos in her gallery

People all around the world have been photographing PANSTARRS, some of them with rather more hi-tech equipment and techniques than myself, John or Bambi! Michael Jager takes fantastically detailed images through a telescope, using special cameras and techniques, and here’s one of his latest, which shows just how much detail and structure there is in PANSTARRS’ tail now, detail and structure which isn’t at all obvious to the naked eye…

2011L420130318teöeweb Michael Jager

Good GRIEF!!! Look at that! PANSTARRS looks like a peacock tail sprayed on the sky!

But it gets better than that…

Astrophotographer Lorenzo-Comolli has taken a photo of PANSTARRS very similar to Michael’s, but then has gone one step further by enhancing it to bring out detail in the tails… I suggest you put something soft under your jaw before you look at the next image, because it’s going to drop like a stone…


Will you look at that… all those tails within the main tail are real, each one is a plume or streamer of dust particles which has come off the comet nucleus. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more images like this one in the days and weeks ahead, as PANSTARRS climbs higher into the sky, into a darker sky. Can’t wait!

That’s it for now. Hopefully the clouds have parted where you are, and you managed to see the comet earlier tonight, or WILL see it later tonight. Either way, good luck, and thanks for reading this blog.

MARCH 21st 2013 – Curses! Foiled again!!

Come on. I mean, seriously, come on, this is getting ridiculous. Every morning I go to to check out/marvel at/drool over the latest images of PANSTARRS taken by comet observers around the world, and then check all my weather forecasting Apps to see if that night’s weather is going to allow me to see and maybe even photoraph the comet for myself. And for the past two days that’s exactly what I’ve done. The photographs people are taking now are beautiful, just beautiful, and show clearly that the comet’s tail is “opening out” into more of a fan shape. And my apps have told me that although the sky wouldn’t be 100% clear there would be big comet-friendly gaps.

Ha! Two wasted, rubbish nights. Last night there was a big, fat, bloated cloud blotting out the whole of the western part of the sky, although the rest of the sky was pretty clear, so we missed the comet. And tonight the lower part of the western sky, just where the comet would be, was hidden by low, horizon-hugging cloud, which stubbornly refused to move and reveal the comet, so we missed it again. SO frustrating!!!

Hopefully we’ll have better luck in a couple of days, when the forecast – and I will be using that word loosely from now on – is for better weather. Hmmm. We’ll see.





March 20th 2013 – Standing up for PANSTARRS

Poor comet PANSTARRS! If it had ears they would be burning red hot. It’s doing its best, shining in the sunset sky that beautiful yellow-gold colour, with a very pretty, if short, tail, but people are queuing up to criticise and condemn it. “Told you so” experts are calling it a disappointment, and many members of the public, having been given bad advice about finding it in the mass media, are having so much trouble spotting it in the sky they’re giving up. That’s a shame.

Ok, so it hasn’t been a Great Comet as we hoped months ago, and it’s not been
another Hale-Bopp, but really, all this wailing and gnashing of teeth over poor
little PANSTARRS is misplaced. It’s done its best, and although it’s been an
absolute pig to observe here in the UK because of our weather, and its low
magnitude in a twilight sky, for people who’ve made the effort to haul themselves off the sofa, get somewhere dark, and hunt for gaps in the weather, it’s been really quite pretty. I’ve seen it on four different occasions now, and have had to fight against weather and light pollution each time, but it was more than worth it. Lovely colour, nicely framed above trees and hilltops, and naked eye at its best. Can’t knock that.

And if it’s hard to see, the answer is for the people who can see it to *help* people *see* it who are having trouble. We’re the ones who know where it is, and when, we have something of a duty to help non-astronomers see it, not just because it’s a good thing to do but because some of those people might go on to become astronomers and comet observers themselves. It’s an investment in the future, as is all Outreach. Although I had intended to try and “do” some serious science with PANSTARRS, estimating its magnitude in particular, I was put off trying to make such serious observations by comments I read on a comet observers mailing list forum, which made it all seem just so hard, and so specialist, that I lost heart with the idea, and instead made a conscious decision to use PANSTARRS as an Outreach comet. We had 100 people at the Comet Watch we organised (see a previous post), and on the other occasions we’ve seen the comet we’ve made sure that non-astronomers who wanted to see it were helped to do that.

For me personally that’s meant taking fewer pictures than I’d wanted, actually looking at it through a telescope eyepiece less than I had wanted, and I still haven’t properly used that yellow filter I bought at Kielder, but that’s meant others have seen a comet for the first time in their lives. And come on, when you have a little girl peer into your eyepiece and whisper to you “It looks  like a fairy…!” well, taking another picture suddenly isn’t so important. 🙂

Bloggers are getting a bit of stick for their coverage of PANSTARRS and ISON too. That’s a shock. We’re easy targets because blogging is still seen in some
quarters as just people tapping away at a computer for hours on end, saying
nothing, but people need to remember that it’s bloggers – responsible bloggers,
I mean – who are providing the most up to date, accurate and practical advice
and information about this comet, and will continue to do so about ISON later in the year. The mass media are just recycling the original press releases (which is why some people think PANSTARRS is *still* ‘near the Moon, god help me!!) and if you go into a newsagents/magazine store and reach up for a March issue of one of the popular monthly astronomy mags their “See The Comet!” guides were written so far in advance that they’re still referring to PANSTARRS in very optimistic terms. Not their fault, at all, that’s the way magazines have to operate, with a time delay effectively. But many bloggers are making great efforts to provide bang up to date info and observing advice that can’t be found elsewhere.

Personally I’ll look back on PANSTARRS quite fondly, as a challenging, shy comet I “beat”, and as an astronomical event I shared with great company, that many people enjoyed. And it’s the first comet I’ve enjoyed digitally too. For Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp I was taking pictures with a film camera, taking slides actually, and so every picture was taken in the knowledge that it was costing me the best part of £1 when the cost of the slide film and processing was taken into account. So I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I wanted to. But now! Haha! I’ve been snapping away with my digital SLR like a madman! Taking dozens, hundreds of photos, knowing that only half a dozen might actually be worth keeping because they showed the comet. It’s a different world. And, of course, this is the first big Twitter and Facebook comet for us Northerners. Our friends down south Tweeted and FBd about Lovejoy and McNaught, but up here this is our first Social Media comet, and that’s a different universe never mind different world!

So, yes, Im enjoying PANSTARRS, and I hope some of you readers are too. In fact, I know you are because you’ve been leaving great comments, and I thank you for that (and for just reading my witterings in the first place! I hope you’ve found this blog useful…) And I feel bad for the poor comet. So much so, that I wrote another of my astropoems about it. I know poetry isn’t to everyone’s taste, so I post this here in the hope that even just a handful of you enjoy it.


There you are, peeking out from behind

That curtain of cloud, as if afraid to show your face

On the twilight sky’s stage;

Embarrassed by all the attention;

Frightened by the crowds with their clicking cameras

And telescopes, all pointing at you, staring right at you

From the muddy fields, parks and gardens of Earth.

No wonder you just want to hide.

You don’t want to be here, do you?

You’d rather be back Out There, in the Oort,

So far from here Sol is just a distant, lonely lantern,

A lighthouse on the horizon with diamond dust

Stars all around. No sound out there;

No-one asking where you are;

No-one sighing “We should be seeing it by now!”

No-one moaning “That’s it? That’s what all the fuss is about?”

You didn’t want to come here, did you?

You’d rather have stayed away,

Far, far away, but something pushed

Or pulled you out of place, sent you tumbling solwards,

Left you falling towards the Sun’s foreign fire,

First warming you, then melting you,

Leaving you blushing as you rushed faster and faster

Towards its blinding light.  STEREO watched

Your tails unfurl, tattered banners of gas and dust

Each a million miles long.

So beautiful, so beautiful…

But now you hide yourself from our view,

Pulling clouds around your shoulders like a cloak,

Refusing to burst into life as we had hoped.

Instead, a reluctant, shy climb out of the twilight,

In oh-so-slow motion, so dim and pale

Only your most devoted followers have managed

To glimpse your face, leaving the rest to turn away,

Disappointed that you have none of Hale-Bopp’s grace;

And your tail: “Pathetic compared to Hyakutake’s!”

“McNaught’s veil was spread across half the sky!”

They sigh wistfully, “What a waste of time…”

But some of us have seen your beauty,

Traced the elegant curve of your tail –

A golden scimitar blade burning

In the lavender hour between sunset

And the fall of true night;

Hanging above the trees and hills,

Your star-like head a faraway firefly

Struggling to shine through the horizon-hugging

Smoke and haze which rises from our villages and towns

At the end of our busy days.

Sol’s soldering iron hot gaze is on your back now;

Your first visit to the light-drenched, sunburnt

Inner Worlds is almost at an end.

Is that your laughter I hear?

Carried to my cold-numbed ears

On the western winds as I watch you glowing,

Golden, through a rapidly-closing gap in the cloud…

(c) Stuart Atkinson 2013

Tonight looks like being a lovely clear night in my part of the world, so I’m hoping to get a LOT more pictures of PANSTARRS later. Wish me luck. And you too!

MARCH 19th – Extreme Comet-Watching

Last night I enjoyed my fourth view of Comet PANSTARRS. Well, I say enjoyed. I mean “survived” because seeing it was not easy at all. In fact, it was downright painful…

Yet again, the Cumbrian weather messed us about yesterday. It was grey, and drizzly, and generally rubbish, all day, but then at around 5pm small areas of clear sky began to open up in all directions, glorious patches of blue here and there, so I decided to take a chance and head up to the castle later in the evening. By the time 7pm came around there was a *huge* clear area of sky to the north-west, and big gaps in the west, so I grabbed my gear and headed up to the Castle, crossing the river and hiking up the increasingly-slippy and muddy hill path up to my main observing site, in the shadow of the castle ruins. By the time I got there, of course, the big gaps in the west had merged into one long gap, which appeared to be holding steady in terms of length and height, so I set up my gear and began sweeping…

And then the gap began to close. Of course. And the wind picked up, and the temperature began to drop like a stone thrown off a bridge. Soon I was absolutely frozen, shivering in the chill wind, but The Gap promised the chance at least of catching a glimpse of the comet – I’d worked out that the comet was in its general direction – so I stuck with it.

Eventually I caught a glimpse of something – a starlike point in The Gap’s centre, and I took a couple of photos. But then, panning my scope to the right, I saw it! The comet!


It hadn’t been there a few moments before, but it was now, and looking very golden and bright. Maybe the seeing was just so good in the cold, or maybe it was the contrast between the comet and the surrounding Mordor-like clouds, but it really did appear strikingly bright in my telescope, so I quickly swung my camera towards it and started snapping. All the time the icy wind was snapping at me, and the wind gusting from all sides, making me and my twin tripods shudder. But The Gap was definitely narrowing by now, and the comet was falling quickly towards its lower edge…


…so I just kept dashing between the two tripods, taking a photo then looking at it, taking another photo then going back to the telescope (and I have to say again how much I love my portable telescope, it;s doing exactly what I bought it for, and perfectly!) until the comet’s head finally vanished behind the edge of the cloud…

But even though the tail had disappeared from view,  the tail remained visible, jutting up from behind the cloud like a faint, yellow-gold beam…


That was one of the most magical memories I’ll take away from PANSTARRS’ visit to my sky, I think…

Soon even the tail had gone, and my fourth date with PANSTARRS was over. With numb hands I packed up my gear and slid and skidded my way back down the hill and back home. Frozen, yes, but happy with what I’d seen – happy that I’d seen anything at all to be honest! – and although my photos have clearly suffered from the gusting wind I really don’t care, they’re my photos, and I’m going to enjoy looking back at them in the years to come.

MARCH 17th – Chasing A Comet across Cumbria

Well, yesterday turned into quite an adventure…

I spent hours yesterday – and I mean hours – trying to find out what the weather was going to do here, and around my area, after sunset, so I could plan where to go looking for Comet PANSTARRS, but I couldn’t get any two of my phone’s weather apps to agree with any degree of confidence. Our best bet seemed to be to head north and hope that the “broken cloud” there broke up enough after sunset to allow us to see the comet, so we decided to go with that, and combine a comet-hunting trip with a visit to our favourite camping and outdoors store. So, off we headed, north, to Penrith, and as we headed towards the town the sky was very promsing, with a lot more blue than cloud…


We had a lovely wander around the tents, oohing and aahing at all the new models, then went to look for a suitable comet-viewing location. But of course, while we had been in the store the sky had deteriorated, and now there was more cloud than blue, and although some of the western sky was clear the clear area was under menacing attack from clouds on all sides, y grey-black muck was approaching it from the south, so we decided to make a dash back to Kendal, and to join fellow members of our astronomical society at our group’s favoured out of town observing site, the car park of a remote country church at Helsington, which offers great views to the south and west. So, back we went…


When we got there, 45 mins after sunset, the sky was darkening, and the western sky was half cloud/half clear. As I set up my camera and small telescope, greeting and being greeted by fellow EAS members who’d congregated (ha!) at the church to try and see the comet themselves, I realised that the comet *should* have been in one of the gaps… The searching and scanning began…

Nothing. For ages. AGES. We all scoured the westerm sky for the comet and saw nothing. Comet watching is, I’ll say again, not for the faint-hearted or impatient. At least not in the UK…

Finally one of our group spotted… something… a vague star just above one of the lines of cloud. Could it be? I looked, seemed to take an eternity to find it for myself, but eventually had it – yes! It was the comet! And –

Then it was gone again, dropping out of sight behind the cloud. Curses, foiled again…

I hadn’t even had time to take a picture, damnit.

BUT… we all realised that the comet would eventually appear out of the bottom of that cloud (unless the cloud itself dropped at the same rate, in which case we were absolutely stuffed!) so we all pointed our scopes and cameras towards it… and waited..

…and eventually we saw this…


There it was, Comet PANSTARRS, emerging from the cloud… We were going to get away with it after all…!

Over the next half hour or so I took a lot of pictures, here are the best ones…






Yes, I was very pleased with those, and I have to say here a huge THANK YOU to my ever-supportive girlfriend Stella for driving us to and fro in pursuit of a PANSTARRS view. Without her I wouldn’t be able to do even half of this stuff. Good thing she enjoys it too…

And yes, I did see the comet with my naked eye. It looked like a golden star, with a short, stubby mist trail at its upper left.

But I wasn’t the only one taking pictures last night! One of EAS’s most enthusiastic members, Carol Grayson, had her camera aimed at the comet too, and her pictures are beautiful…


One thing last night brought home was the huge difference getting away from streetlights and light pollution makes when viewing PANSTARRS. I’ve had a few people say to me “It doesn’t look much on the photos, it’s not worth it..” but that’s totally missing the point, and missing a great opportunity too.

Let’s be clear. Anyone who wants to can SEE Comet PANSTARRS, if it’s visible in their sky. HOW you see it is entirely up to you. From a town or city, you WILL see PANSTARRS if you look for it carefully, but it will look like just a star with a fuzzy bit off to the upper left. If that’s all you want, if you’re happy with that, if you’re content to just see it briefly, put an “Ok, I’ve finally seen it, that’ll do me” tick next to it in your head then fine…

But, if you want to really see it, if you want to see the gentle arc of the tail, if you want to see its beautiful yellow-gold colour, if you want to see the spark of light at its head, shining against the twilight sky like a distant lantern glowing through the smoke, then you have to get off your backside, get out of town, away from the lights, and find somewhere better to view it from. If you do that, you’ll be rewarded with great views.You’ll be able to say, honestly, “I saw Comet PANSTARRS”.

Why should you? Why should you go to all that trouble? Because ok, so PANSTARRS isn’t a Great Comet, it’s not lighting up the sky as we had hoped, but come ON! It’s a naked eye COMET! Those are SO rare! When one comes along – especially one like this, out of the blue – it’s pretty stupid not to see it at its best if you possibly can, isn’t it? It will be gone all too soon, leaving us all staring at the sky, and our watches, hoping that Comet ISON turns on as much as we’re all hoping it will. But it might not. Then you’ll regret not getting off that sofa and hiking up a hill or driving out of town to see *this* comet when you had the chance, won’t you..?

Get out there. Find it. Savour it.

You’ll be glad you did.

                                                                                                                                                             MARCH 16th 2013 – How to find Comet PANSTARRS

Although many people have now seen it, it’s clear that a lot of people are having a lot of trouble finding Comet PANSTARRS. This isn’t a huge surprise. It’s small, and faint, and is challenging even for people who are used to looking at things in the night sky.

PANSTARRS is going to go down in history as a disappointment, I fear. Soon after it was found, calculations suggested it was going to be bright enough at its best to be visible easily to the naked eye. We hoped it might become as big and as bright in the sky as Comet Hale-Bopp was back in 1997 – so big and so bright that you didn’t need to look for it, it was right there, in front of your face, when you looked in its rough direction. We even hoped with crossed fingers, that PANSTARRS might grow big and bright enough to become a “Great Comet”, so obvious to the naked eye that it slapped you across the face as soon as the Sun set…

It hasn’t quite turned out that way.

The truth is, unless you live – or can get to – somewhere really dark, away from light pollution, Comet PANSTARRS is small, and faint, and hard to spot in the twilight sky. From a truly dark site it is (apparently!) a naked eye object, and looks like a golden star with a short yellow-gold tail stretching away from it, a bit like a short length of slightly curved vapour trail above the western horizon after dark. But for everyone stuck in a town, or city, PANSTARRS looks like a star with a tiny, faint, barely-there wispy, misty ‘fan’ of blue-grey to its upper left. And that’s through binoculars. To the naked eye it’s really just a star that “doesn’t look quite right”…

I’ve had a lot of people telling me that they’ve given up looking for PANSTARRS, it’s just too hard. But really, it’s not. Yes, finding it is a challenge, but it’s not impossible, and even if you live in a town or cityyou can find it without tearing your hair out or screaming at the sky. True, it takes a bit of work, and a lot of patience, but it’s not impossible!

Basically, there’s a wrong way and a right way to look for PANSTARRS. Go grab a coffee, or a tea, and when you come back I’ll go through them with you – and I promise you, if you follow this advise you WILL see Comet PANSTARRS on the next clear night, IF it’s visible from your part of the world (and to find that out, scroll down this page to the animated visibility map, or just save yourself a whole lot of trouble and download the brilliant “Sky Safari” app for your smartphone, Android and iOS versions are available).

Ok, so I’m going to assume you live in one of the towns or cities I referred to earlier, and are having trouble finding PANSTARRS. Here’s what you’re going to do on the next clear night.

Go somewhere with the flattest, least cluttered western horizon you can find, and about 40 minutes after local sunset, start to look for the comet with your binoculars. There’s no point looking for PANSTARRS any earlier than that because the sky will just be too bright. And looking for it before the Sun has set is just plain stoopid, not just because, OBVIOUSLY, the sky would be too bright to let you see the comet, but also because you risk glimpsing the Sun through your binoculars, which would probably blind you. ( and honestly, if you’re daft enough to try that then frankly I don’t want you reading this blog, go and look at dogs playing the piano or something like that…)

So… flat, uncluttered horizon, and a darkening, post-sunset sky. Facing the west, lift up those binoculars. We’re going to search for the comet. Now, your first instinct will be to just swoop and sweep your binoculars around, looking for the comet in the clear sky. Something like this kind of search pattern…

wrong way

There is no way you are going to find Comet PANSTARRS if you do that! Okay, there’s a very small chance, but if you do find the comet by whooshing your binoculars around like that then it will be an absolute fluke, and you’ll not be able to go back to it! No, that’s very definitely the wrong way to do it. SO what’s the RIGHT way? This…

right way

You scan along the horizon with your binoculars, slowly, slowly, then go up a bit, just one field of view, then sweep again, the other way.. then go up a bit, and sweep back… and so on. This way you’re searching ALL the comet’s area of sky, not leaving any gaps. GO SLOWLY. DON’T RUSH! If you rush you’ll leave gaps. And also, if you rush you might spot the comet but it’ll have skidded out of your field of view before you know it. No, take it slowly.

It might take you a few goes – the comet is an expert at hiding in the twilight, in fact I was calling it an “absolute pig!” last night while I was looking for it – but eventually you will succeed, and see something like this…

plus binocs

YES! SUCCESS! There’s the Comet!! Woo hoo! You did it! Well done!

Now your first reaction will be to instantly put your binoculars down, and try to find it with your naked eye. Bad mistake. If you do that, I can almost guarantee that you won’t be able to see it, and you won’t be able to go back toit either…

where is it

No. What you should do is, having found the comet, slowly, slowly, pan your binoculars down, down to the horizon, and see what feature ON the horizon lies directly beneath the comet. It might be a tree, a chimney, a telegraph pole, doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, that will be your guide to going BACK to the comet…

line up

Having found (and memorised!) a horizon feature that lines up with the comet, it’s safe to lower your binoculars and look for the comet with your naked eye. And if you can’t see it right away, you use the tree, or chimney, or telegraph pole, to HELP you find it. Find that on the horizon, then look above it… and the comet, if it IS visible to the naked eye at that time (it might not be, the sky may still be too bright) will be above it…

find again j

And really, once you’ve done that you’ve cracked it. The comet is going to move from that exact point before it eventually sets, yes, but it won’t stray too far from it. So you’re going to be looking at just a small area of the sky from then on…

area of sky

Honestly, follow that procedure and you WILL find Comet PANSTARRS. And having found it, you can then aim your telescope at it, or try to get some photographs of it. There’s a guide to photographing the comet further down the page, just scroll down.

So, there you go. That’s what you should do if you haven’t found PANSTARRS yet. If it works for you, be sure to let me know! It would be nice to know someone is reading this stuff…! 🙂

                                                                                                                                                                MARCH 15th 2013

Another evening, another comet hunt in Kendal! After a day of looking at one weather forecast app on my phone after another, again and again, desperately trying to find two that agreed, I decided against heading north to my mum’s and stayed here in Kendal to try and observe PANSTARRS. And at 6pm it looked like I’d made the right decision: the western sky was beautiful, very clear with just one big monster cloud on the horizon. The Moon was high and bright, with glorious Earthshine showing, and I could sense PANSTARRS Was there, right in front of me, hiding behind the orange-blue cloak of twilight…

By 6.20 the sky was totally clear… and half an hour later the inevitable banks of cloud had started to appear above the western horizon, rising up from and drifting along it, right where PANSTARRS was going to appear out of the dusky glow. Typical! So – by now joined by another EAS member, Carol – I scanned and scanned and scanned the sky with my binocs and small telescope, in vain again and again. SO frustrating! It was a very damp evening too, and I had to keep stopping to wipe dew off the lenses of my telescope and camera. And still PANSTARRS refused to come out of hiding –

FINALLY I caught a glimpse of it, lower than I’d expected – having lost track of the time whilse sweeping the sky – and *this* close to the tapered end of an approaching bank of cloud! I had just enough time to look at it through my telescope for a minute, and to fire off a couple of photos (aiming at ‘approximately the right area’!) before the comet was swallowed up again, and another night’s PANSTARR viewing was over…

PANSTARRS March 15th Kendal

This is a comet which is really trying very hard to make UK observers give up on it, isn’t it? A comet which makes you think “You know what? I can’t be bothered, stuff you…” but trust me, stick with it, it is worth looking for because, when you eventually find it, it looks really pretty.

Tonight’s weather forecast looks iffy again (of  COURSE it does when there’s a chance of the northern lights being visible from the rth of the UK!!), so we’ll see what happens. I think PANSTARRS has more to offer me yet!

MARCH 14th 2013

Finally, FINALLY, after writing about it, rendering pessimistic/realistic/wildly optimistic Photoshop pictures of it, generating star charts for it, blogging about it, talking about it on the radio and to community groups in schools, church halls and other exotic, glamourous locations, last night I managed to see Comet PANSTARRS.

YES!!! 🙂

But boy it was a struggle.

Last night was The Big Night for comet spotters in my part of the world, because the astronomical society I help run, the Eddington Astronomical Society of Kendal, had organised a “Comet Watch” up at the ruins of the castle which overlook our historic town…

PANSTARRS Comet Watch poster jpg sm

So of course we spent all day glancing anxiously at the sky, hoping that the clouds which had rolled in and ruined our chance of seeing PANSTARRS the previous night would drift away and leave behind a clear sky for us to scan for the elusive comet with our binoculars and telescopes. Thankfully, by 6pm, when I reached the castle, laden down with cameras, telescopes, binoculars and half a ton of other pieces of kit,  the western sky looked like this…


Soon other people – fellow astro society members and members of the public –  started to wander up the footpaths to the castle, and by around twenty past the crowd was starting to grow…


And the weather continued to play its part. By the time Stella brought my smaller scope and its tripod up to the castle the western sky was almost free of cloud, with just a few straggler lines of dark cloud hanging above the horizon. Above them – a beautiful crescent Moon, a crescent Moon which was going to be our priceless guide to the comet!

moon jpg label

So we started scanning the sky… and scanned… and scanned… and scanned… As more and more people arrived at the top of the hill, and started asking when the comet would appear, what it would look like, etc, our frustration grew and grew. The sky was clear, beautifully clear, perfectly clear, but still too bright to let us see the comet! All we could do was keep looking…


By 6.40 the sky was getting quite dark, but still no sign of the comet, and with several dozen people standing behind me, getting restless and impatient, I began to get worried…


Had PANSTARRS faded overnight so much that we weren’t going to see it? Had it broken into pieces? No, someone would have said something on Twitter. I scanned the sky again with my recently-bought Celestron Travel Scope, which I had bought, you may remember, specifically to help me find and observe both PANSTARRS and ISON. I centred the Moon (looking beautiful by then) and then lowered the scope and nudged it ever so slightly sideways… nothing… I tried again… nothing… I tried again –

Oh, hello

first view

Could it be..? It had to be.

That’s not a through-the-eyepiece photo, that’s a pic I made in Photoshop to show ahat PANSTARRS looked like as I saw it for the first time. It really was just a star with a teeny tiny tail, but oh it was beautiful! I looked up from the scope to see if I could see it with my naked eye – no chance. I looked into the eyepiece again, to double check what I was seeing was actually the comet – yep, it was still there.

Gotcha!!! Ha! 🙂

I told everyone around me I’d spotted it, and that caused great excitement. People knew they hadn’t tramped all the way up the hill for nothing after all! They were going to see the comet! Soon the other Eddington AS members had their scopes swinging towards the comet, and were showing it to people. Young and old raced to the nearest telescope and formed queues, eager to see the comet for themselves. I showed it to a dozen or so people through my own scope before I remembered  had my camera set up nearby! I needed to take some photographs! But there were so many people wanting to see the comet it was a good ten minutes more before I managed to start taking pictures…


By now lots of our event visitors were finding the comet for themselves and seeing it through the binoculars they’d brought with them. People who hadn’t brought binoculars were able to borrow some from a neighbour, but still the queues at the eyepieces kept growing, and reactions ranged from “Wow! That’s fantastic!” to “Is that IT?!” and everything inbetween.

And that was fair enough, I suppose. Some people have been hyping PANSTARRS for a long time now, even after we realised it wasn’t going to be “Hale Bopp 2″ as we initially hoped it might be. For myself and my fellow EAS members it was a magical and very memorable sight – a comet! In the sky! Above our own town! Fantastic! But for more than a few people in the crowd I could tell it was disappointing, nothing like their idea of what a comet looks like, at all. Hopefully ISON will put a smile on their faces and impress them more!

So… time passed… the sky darkened, and the comet dropped lower, and still people queued at the telescopes, although the crowd thinned noticeably after the initial sightings. With the permission of their parents I had already held up a few kids so they could look into my telescopes, but as the comet dropped towards the skyline in slow motion I began to realise that quite a few of our younger – and shorter – visitors were not getting to see the comet because no telescopes were low enough for them to look through, so I dropped the legs on my own 4.5” reflector and politely asked the adults clustered around it to go and look through a different telescope so I could use mine just to show it to kids. No-one argued and soon one young comet watcher after another was stepping forward and enjoying their first ever view of a comet…

Some were excited (one little girl couldn’t contain herself, and was almost shrieking “Oh wow! Oh wow!! Look at that! Mum, it’s a comet! Look!!!” as she looked into the eyepiece), others frustrated (“I can’t see ANYTHING…!!!”) and still others viewed the comet more calmly and thoughtfully, drinking in the view. This is roughly what they saw, looking into my telescope as it magnified the comet approx 25x…


To me it looked like a tiny, misty shuttlecock, with a golden sequin star at its head, but one little girl whispered to me as she looked at PANSTARRS through my telescope “It looks like a fairy…” I like her image better. 🙂

I took a moment to take in the scene at the castle. There must have been half a dozen different telescopes there, set up on the grass in the dark, each one surrounded by a small crowd of comet watchers. It was a magical and quite moving sight. I felt satisfaction at having seen the comet, and pride that our event had gone so well. But more than anything I felt relief. Not just because, after thinking and writing about it for so long I was *finally* seeing PANSTARRS with my own eyes, but because so many people were getting to see it too after taking the time and trouble to hike up to the castle, on a freezing cold March night. And all the Eddington AS members there worked SO hard to make sure everyone who wanted to see the comet could, I was very, very proud of them and of our Society, I don’t mind admitting.

Soon – all too soon – the comet was just above the horizon, and I had to step away from my telescope and leave other EAS members to show the comet to people so I could take the photographs I’ve wanted to take for so many months, ever since PANSTARRS was found. Here are my best ones…












panstarrs framed

Eventually the comet slipped behind the trees on the far horizon, and I caught one last fleeting glimpse of it, looking like a golden spark shining through gaps in the tree branches…


…then it was gone.

I wanted to clap and cheer, the evening had gone so well. I felt a little like one of those technicians at the end of “Close Encounters”, you know, the ones who gather at the foot of Devil’s Peak to watch the alien Mothership land, and break out into applause when the ETs launch into their own musical symphony. I looked at the EAS members scattered around me and everyone was smiling, thinking the same thing: what a fantastic night! We’d seen PANSTARRS, shown it to maybe a hundred other people, and got the photographs we’d wanted too!

Job done. Mission accomplished.


Tonight the sky above Kendal is black with thick cloud. There was no chance of seeing the comet tonight, and the next three or four nights look likely to be no good for comet watching either. So I can’t help wondering if my first view of PANSTARRS will turn out to be my best view – or even my only view, the weather here can be that bad for that long. I guess we’ll have to just wait and see. But last night, after all the waiting, I saw PANSTARRS, with my own eyes, and I don’t care how faint it was, how tiny it was, how totally unlike Hale-Bopp it was. I saw it, and to me it looked beautiful.

I hope you’ve seen it yourself by now. If you have, leave a comment here telling me about it. If you haven’t, then keep trying – and good luck!

MARCH 13th 2013

No. I didn’t see Comet PANSTARRS last night. After enjoying sunny, cloud-free skies all day, I went up to Kendal Castle just before sunset, and the clouds rolled in, obliterating every trace of blue. By the time the Sun was due to set there was not a hint of clear sky anywhere, the whole sky was a mass of gunmetal-grey, stodgy, porridge-thick, congealed cloud. So I had set up my telescope and camera for nothing…


This, then, is my best image of Comet PANSTARRS so far…


Meanwhile, people around the world were taking beautiful photos of the comet shining close to a painfully thin crescent Moon in their own twilight glows. Check out the comet gallery at to see some of those pictures. It was heartbreaking seeing them this morning, realising what I’d missed after looking forward to it for so long, but I guess that’s how it goes in astronomy. SOmetimes things just don’t work out. But not happy. Not happy at all.


Tonight looks more promising, which is good news because tonight we’re having our “Comet Watch” up at Kendal castle, and we’re hoping for quite a crowd, so it would be nice to actually, you know, show them something! Wish us luck! 🙂

MARCH 12th 2013

And we’re back!

I was away all weekend, up at a star camp at Kielder in Northumberland. I’ll be writing that up on another blog later…it was quite an adventure! But tonight is The Night! The night I think I have a really good chance of actually SEEING the comet I’ve been writing about for so long! The sky here in Kendal is very clear, and later I’m heading off up to the castle to try and see and photograph PANSTARRS! I tried last night actually; severalmembers of my astronomy society headed out of Kendal to our observing site and we scanned the sunset sky for the comet, but without success, too many ragged tatters of cloud in the way, hiding the comet from our view. Very frustrating! But tonight feels luckier, and all my things are packed ready to go. If I do manage to see it of course I’ll write all about it here. In the meantime I hope you’ve all been looking at the beautiful images people have been taking of PANSTARRS around the world, now it’s swum up into the northern sky? It’s been widely seen across the US now, and is being seen in Europe too. It’s no Hale-Bopp as we were all hoping a long, long time ago, but hey, it’s a NAKED EYE COMET! Go look for it! Enjoy it! They don’t come along that often!

More later – wish me luck…

MARCH 7th 2013

A brief interruption…

Typical. Just as Comet PANSTARRS swings up into the northern sky I won’t be able to update the blog for a few days, so I’ll probably miss reporting on the first northern hemisphere sightings of the comet! Never mind, normal service will be resumed on Monday, when I hope to see PANSTARRS for the first time myself! In the meantime, to keep up to date with northern developments, please follow the following people on Twitter, if you can…

Daniel Fischer  @cosmos4u

Nick Howes @NickAstronomer

for regular updates and links to sites which will be following the northern apparition, and keep an eye on the following websites…

for images and observing reports as they come in.

Good luck everyone!!



We’re now just DAYS away from our first views of Comet PANSTARRS up here in the northern hemisphere. It’s been a long wait, and a frustrating one. We’ve had ups and downs – periods when the comet seemed to be on-track to be “another Hale-Bopp”, and periods when its rate of brightening seemed to be slowing so much it was destined to be so faint we’d need binoculars to see it. But it’s now looking VERY promising that PANSTARRS will be a lovely object in the evening up here north of the equator after all.

As can be seen from the sudden increase in the number of images of PANSTARRS being posted on the website, recently the comet has really seemed to wake up and unfurl a respectable tail, which some reporters are observing as bright enough to be seen even in bright twilight, and observers in the southern hemisphere have been enjoying quite lovely views of it with their naked eyes. Shining low in their  sky it has been an easy naked eye object for around a week now, even from light polluted towns and cities. I think it looks like a “mini Comet West” on the most recent photos I’ve seen, which is very exciting! So, looking at the latest photographs, like this…

2011L4_20130301_mm2b copy

…and reading the excited and satisfied reports of observers Down Under, we northern hemisphere comet observers and number crunchers have beecome more hopeful, and many seasoned comet observers  now seem to agree that PANSTARRS *will* be a good naked eye comet for northern hemisphere observers after all, although it will certainly be “challenging” to see in the bright twilight. All we can do now is wait and see.

Although we now know for certain that PANSTARRS isn’t going to be as bright or as prominent as ISON, it will still be worth looking for in the sunset sky, not just because it could still be a very “pretty” comet in its own right, with a lovely forked tail, but because it will provide all of us comet-watchers with a fantastic opportunity to practice taking photos of a comet with our digital cameras (when Hale-Bopp was in the sky very few people had digital cameras, they were almost science fiction! I spent a FORTUNE on slide film!!), and observing a comet with whatever equipment we use for our amateur astronomy, which will be invaluable when ISON finally appears in the sky at year’s end.

So, back to basics, forgetting all the hype and hyperbole that’s gone before, starting with a clean piece of paper – where do YOU look for Comet PANSTARRS?

Well, if you live in the middle latitudes (that’s between, say, 45 and 60 deg N) of the northern hemisphere, it’s really quite simple. From March 10th or so you look towards the west right after sunset, and start looking for a smudgy… elongated… tadpole- or v-shaped thing… in the sky. That will be Comet PANSTARRS. This graphic from NASA shows what I mean by that very well… (Note: don’t take the picture TOO literally, at least not the way the comet is shown. That’s just a guide. It will look more like a misty “V” than the single, straight, vapour trail-like line shown here)


The best times to look will be on the evenings of March 12th and 13th, because on those evenings you can use the crescent Moon as a guide to help you find PANSTARRS. On the 12th the comet will be to the Moon’s upper left. On the 13th, the comet will be to the Moon’s lower right.

Simple, right?

Well, ish. Seeing PANSTARRS is still going to need a bit of work on your part.

The basic problem is that the comet is never going to get very high in the northern sky, at least not while it’s at its best. We’re always and only going to see it low on the horizon, shortly after sunset. That means we’ll be looking for a faint smudgy thing, low down, in a bright sky. That’s an AWFUL combination!! But if PANSTARRS keeps brightening as it is at the moment, we should be able to find it easily with the naked eye, and if we can’t, well, patiently sweeping the twilight with binoculars should bring pesky PANSTARRS out of hiding!

NOTE 1: If you DON’T live somewhere in the middle latitudes, how do you know if you’ll be able to see PANSTARRS? (I’m getting a LOT of messages from people in India asking if they can see the comet… yes, you can…) Well, I’ve just found a truly superb YouTube video representation of the comet’s visibility around the world. So fire up this clip and see when – or even if – YOU will be able to see the comet from where you live…

NOTE 2: If you want to know if and when you will be able to see PANSTARRS (and ISON later in the year) from your location, and you have an Android or an iPhone, I urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to go to the App store you use and download an astronomy app called “Sky Safari”.


There are three different versions – a free version, kind of “Sky Safari Lite”, and two increasingly feature-packed paid for versions – but they all do the same job, i.e. they act as a planetarium on your phone. You simply input your location (or the phone will do it for you if you use GPS), select a date and time, and the screen display shows you what’s in the sky at that time. You can also use it in “real time” to see what’s in the sky, i.e. by going out on a clear night and holding your phone up to the sky – the screen display then names the stars your phone is pointing at, identifies planets and other things too. Absolute genius. And you can use Sky Safari to find out if and when and where you will be able to see Comet PANSTARRS, it’s an absolute godsend for that. I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough. I’ve used it to make many of the illustrations on this blog, and use it all the time in my Outreach and Education work in schools and out in the community.

So, let’s get down to it. To see Comet PANSTARRS…

* You will need a FLAT WESTERN HORIZON. If your skyline in that direction is cluttered with trees, buildings, hills, whatever, chances are they’ll block your view of the comet. Flat is good. No. Flat is essential. Get out of town, get high, and find yourself somewhere to observe with as low and as boring a western horizon as possible. If you find a place that makes you think “Wow, photographs taken here would look really dull”… that’s a GREAT place for observing Comet PANSTARRSwith your naked eye and binoculars! If you’re a photographer, tho, a few low trees on the horizon will make your photographs look more attractive. More on photographing PANSTARRS later in ths article.

* Although PANSTARRS should be a naked eye comet, it’s not going to be an EASY naked eye comet like Hale-Bopp, Lovejoy or McNaught, because we’re going to be seeing it against a bright sky, so you really should have a pair of binoculars handy when you’re looking for it. It’s hard to stress too much just how much of an enemy a bright background sky is for comet observers, even when the comet in question is bright. Yes, PANSTARRS is definitely going to be a challenge. Binoculars will be your new best friends in a week or so’s time.

* Photographing PANSTARRS from up here in t’north isn’t going to be easy (the whole faint comet/bright sky thing) but don’t let that stop you trying! It’s not as if you’re going to be using/wasting precious and expensive photographic film is it? In fact, I want to encourage everyone reading this to take as many photographs as possible, just try lots of different exposures and “click click click” away until your fingers bleed and your camera glows red hot. Some of the pictures will have the comet on them. Trust me. There’s a guide to photographing PANSTARRS during the first few days of its visit to the northern sky later in this article.

Finally, what exactly are you looking for?

Well, what you’re NOT looking for is a bright light dashing across the sky, trailing smoke and flame. We’d only ever see a comet like that if it was moments away from hitting the Earth, and we really don’t want to see that! No, Comet PANSTARRS will look like a long smudge of light in the twilight sky, that moves a short distance to the north – that’s to the right as you look at it – each night. You won’t notice it moving while you’re looking at it, it will just seem to hang there in the sky, motionless. But the next time you see it, the night after, or a few nights later, you’ll notice that it’s moved relative to the starry background. What it looks like in the sky will depend on how much or how little its tail grows after it rounds the Sun. If it grows as we’re hoping, it will look like a bright, slightly misty “V” in the twilight, or a short, stubby, tapering vapour trail with a slightly brighter head. If the tail doesn’t grow as we’re hoping it will, PANSTARRS will look just like a fuzzy star in the western sky after sunset. Either way, a pair of binoculars will help you see it.

Right, you’re all set. Good luck everyone!


Finder charts:

NOTE: now we know PANSTARRS isn’t going to be an obvious naked eye comet, please use these following charts as rough guides to what you can expect to see in the western sky on the following dates. They’re drawn for my latitude here in the UK, which is what is usually called “mid northern latitude”. If you live further north or south than me your times and view will change accordingly, but these images will at least give you a rough idea of where the comet will be during its apparition.


Use these charts to help you just find the blessed thing in the sunset glow, using the Moon as a very rough guide. These show the (approx!) correct orientations of the curving dust tail and straighter gas tail. Please note: on the 12th the Moon will be a painfully-thin crescent, not at all obvious to the naked eye, and you might need binoculars to find it first. Actually, there’s even a chance you’ll see the comet itself first, if it brightens as much after perihelion as we hope it will, but we’ll have to wait and see…

March 12 stellarium comet blue

March 13 stellarium comet blue

March 15 stellarium comet b

March 20 plus comet


So, you want to photograph Comet PANSTARRS. Of COURSE you do! Why wouldn’t you? Ok, to do that you’re going to need…

* An unobstructed western horizon

* No nearby sources of light pollution

* A camera. I know. Duh..! But what kind of camera?

Here are the two types of camera people generally use today…


On the left is a “compact” digital camera, you know, the type you throw into your bag or drop into a pocket if you’re going out to a party, or to the beach,or just for a walk on a sunny day. They’re very easy to use – with an Auto setting that makes them good for “point and shoot” photos of sunsets, dogs chasing balls, and your mates looking worse for wear in the pub, that kind of thing. Pretty useless for night sky and comet photography tho, I’m afraid. For that you really need one of the cameras shown on the right. That’s a Digital SLR, or “DSLR” for short, and it’s what you probably think of as a ‘serious’ camera, the sort of camera serious photographers – with their beards, padded bags and furrowed brows – sling around their necks and cradle lovingly in their hands like holy relics. They use them to take arty pictures of sunsets, wheat fields blowing in the breeze and moody black and white photos of sand ripples on the beach…

Looking at them, obviously you need a degree in computing to operate them, and they cost an absolute fortune. Well, that’s actually not true. They can be very easy to use, very instinctive and intuitive once you’ve spent a bit of time just getting used to them, and you can pick up cheap second hand ones for very reasonable prices. And they are the camera you need for astrophotography – taking photos of the night sky. One of those cameras will, I promise you, with a little bit of work on your part, get you some cracking photos of Comet PANSTARRS.

Why are they so useful? Well, for one thing they can collect a LOT of light, and as photography is all about collecting, and manipulating, light, that’s a Good Thing. Also, you have a LOT of control over the way they collect that light. You can change the length of the exposure, you can change the amount of light going through the lens, and you can use different lenses with them too, swapping between wide angle and zoom lenses as the conditions and your subject dictate…


I have a really good zoom lens for my DSLR, and when it’s fitted to the camera body it really looks a bit of a beast…!


Brilliant eh? Lenses like that are good because they allow you to take photographs “zoomed in” or “zoomed out” to show more of the comet and its tails, or more of the surrounding landscape.


Lenses like that make an already-heavy camera even heavier. So, try taking a photo of the comet in this way…


…and you’re going to get NOTHING, everything will be blurred. No, to take good photos of PANSTARRS (or anything, really, with a camera fitted with a long lens) you need to support the camera in some way. You can try just resting it on a cushion, or on a bunched-up coat or jacket, and that will make it steadier than it would be just held in your hands, but really there’s only one way to keep a camera steady while taking photos of Comet PANSTARRS. You need one of these


A tripod. If you don’t already have one, seriously, go and get one as soon as you can. They are, to use the cliche, worth their weight in gold. Put a tripod beneath your DSLR and it will, I promise you, let you take photographs of Comet PANSTARRS.

Now, tripods come in different sizes, and heights, and makes and models, so which should you buy? And how much should you spend? Well, get the best you can afford, and in this case “best” means sturdiest and steadiest. You can buy cheap, rickety ones for under £20 or so, but you’re much better off spending a little more for one with stronger legs and a steadier camera mount at the top. If you’re on a budget, spend some time trawling around your local charity shops; sometimes they will have tripods in, you might get lucky! And if you find one in a charity shop, and if it’s not obviously broken, grab it and take a closer look, give it a good checking over. Check the leg clips are all working, and that the legs extend. The obvious stuff. But above all check that there’s a plate with a screw thread sticking out of it at the top of the tripod, because this is what you’re going to screw your camera on to…


Many tripods I’ve found in charity shops have that all important screw plate missing, which is probably why they’re in a charity shop in the first place – the previous owner lost or broke it, rendering the tripod about as much use as a hog roast at a vegetarian wedding buffet. If that piece is missing, walk away. You can always try to find a replacement for the missing part by asking in your local camera shops, you might get lucky, but I’d suggest you don’t risk that, it can be a real hassle and it’s just easier starting off with a complete tripod.

So, that’s the basic gear: camera, and tripod. What about those fancy lenses? What difference do those really make?

I thought it would be interesting to see how different sized lenses would record the scene during the first few days of PANSTARRS’ northern display, to help people plan their photographs in advance, so here are some very rough-and-ready comparisons, with fields of view calculated for my Canon EAS300… I can’t imagine other cameras will be very different..? (If they are, I’m sure someone will tell me!)

1 12th 18mm

2 12th 50mm

3 12th 135mm

4 12th 200mm

5 13th 18mm

6 13th 50mm portrait

7 13th 135mm portrait

8 13th 135mm portrait b

9 14th 50mm

10 14th 50mm b

Remember, PLEASE, those are just rough and ready representations, meant to help you plan your PANSTARRS photographs in advance, and to show you the best lenses to use on the various dates. You’ll see that the best photos of “Comet and Moon” will be taken with lenses from 50mm – 135mm. Anything larger than that should just be used to photograph the comet on its own. Anything smaller than 1 standard 50mm lens will be great for wider angle views of the comet shining above the horizon in the twilight glow.

Ok… camera, tripod, lenses… what about taking the pictures?!

Firstly, find somewhere suitable totake your photos from – and for PANSTARRS, “suitable” means as flat as possible, facing west. Here you can see examples of Bad, Good and Will Do PANSTARRS viewing and photography sites… (the “Will Do” site is, for the record, up at Kendal Castle, where I’m going to be doing most of my PANSTARRS-observing from..)


Then it’s a matter of actually taking a picture, and that means choosing and using different exposure times and lenses. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. As far as lens choice is concerned, as you can tell from the previous set of images, for a wide angle view, use a lens between 18 and 35mm. That will get you a pic showing a lot of ground, and sky, but the comet will look very small (unless PANSTARRS really does have a spurt of growth and grows a BIG tail, in which case a wide angle lens will be perfect, haha!). To zoom in on the comet, use something between 80 and 300mm. A standard 50mm lens should get you a basic pretty picture of the comet with some sky above and around it, and some of the horizon too.

Now… exposure time… the wrong exposure time will give you a rubbish picture, it’s as simple as that. So what is the CORRECT exposure time? Well, that depends on the time you’re taking your pictures, how bright the sky is, what size lens you’re using, lots of things. If your exposure time is too short you’ll just get a dark, featureless (and comet-less!) sky. An exposure time too long will give you an image so bright that the comet will be lost and washed-out against the bright sky. The trick is just to try different exposure times, lots of them, and eventually you’ll find the right one for the circumstances. When you “hit” the correct exposure you’ll know, because you’ll be able to see the comet on your picture!


Your exposure time will depend on your ISO or ASA setting (what we used to call “Film speed”) too. Play about with that, switching between, say, 400ASA and 1600ASA, using different exposures.

Suggestion… I think you’d find it REALLY useful to look back at photographs people took of the last two bright naked eye comets, Lovejoy and McNaught, and see what set-ups they used. So, click on the following links, which take you to galleries of photos on the brilliant site, and spend some time looking through the images. When you see a photo you like, one that makes you think “I want to take one like THAT!” check out the camera they used, the size of the lens, the exposure time, things like that. That’ll help you plan your own photographs…

Comet McNaught photos

Comet Lovejoy photos

After you take each photo, look at it on the preview screen on the back of your camera, and adjust what you’re doing accordingly. And then, eventually, after all the faffing about with different lenses, exposure times and film speeds,  you’ll finally take a picture that makes you break out into a big grin because it’ll be there! On the screen! The comet will be on your photo! Well done!

But as Han Solo said, “Don’t get cocky, kid!” You’re just getting started…

Having found that magical correct combination of lens/exposure time/film speed, take lots of photos at that setting, but be aware that the sky will be getting darker over time and you will need to change the exposure time accordingly.

Above all, just have fun! You’re not going to be wasting money taking lots of photos, it’s not like Ye Olden Days when we had to fork out a tenner for a 24 exposure roll of slide film! Just click away, trying different lenses and different exposures, and you’ll get something. And when the comet’s head has set, keep photographing! You might manage to get some pictures of the tail poking up from behind the horizon, which can look really pretty.

One last, very important tip. Use the Time Delay/Self Timer on your camera when you’re taking your comet pictures. Why? Well, if you just start taking your picture by pressing your finger down on the button, even carefully, that will set the camera shaking, and will blur your photo. You might be thinking “Rubbish! I’ve got a really steady hand!” but trust me, it won’t be steady enough. If you use the Time Delay/Self Timer you avoid all that shaking and juddering, and when the shutter eventually trips it will be a lot less shaky and juddery, which will give you much shaper pictures.

Actually, one last, LAST very important tip. Don’t forget to look at the comet. I know that sounds silly – like you’re going to forget to look at it after all the preparation and waiting! – but trust me, once you start snapping away you can become quite obsessed with photographing it and forget to actually LOOK at it. Make sure you stop clicking every few minutes to just stand up straight, take a step away from the camera, and look at the comet, with your naked eye and then through your binoculars (and telescope if you have one of those too). Enjoy tracing out the length of the tail. Enjoy just seeeing the comet shining above the horizon, above your town, above your park or beach. Forget you have a canmera, or any equipment at all, and just savour the view. You might not get another chance.

There, I think that’s it. Remember, if you get some good photographs of PANSTARRS send them in and I’ll put them on the blog. It’s the least I can do to thank you for reading all this stuff! 🙂

3. MISC charts to use after PANSTARRS is at its best…


Again, these images are to be used and considered as FINDER CHARTS ONLY. The planetarium programs and Android apps they were created with cannot EVER accurately simulate the true appearance of a comet in advance, because no-one can, not really. All these images do is provide you with a guide where to look, and when, ok? They all show strikingly long tails, but DON’T TAKE THE TAIL LENGTH TOO SERIOUSLY! The tail angle on each image is correct, but a) that only represents the ion or “gas” tail of the comet in question, consisting of material blown directly away from the comet nucleus by the solar wind, and b) the comets’ dust tails aren’t shown because their length and appearance simply can’t be calculated either in advance by this software. PANSTARRS and ISON are both likely to have extensive and curved dust tails which aren’t shown on these next charts. And please note that the tail lengths shown on the images is not to be trusted too much either; it’s just drawn in by the software to represent “a comet tail”, with some attempt to simulate its possible length. Honestly, just use these images as a rough guide to where to look for PANSTARRS, ok?

Mar 17

Mar 26

Apr 4

It will be good to follow the comet through binoculars and telescopes at this time. I’m sure lots of zoomed-in photos will be taken at the start of April…

April 10th – past M31 and heading up towards Cassiopeia and the Milky Way…

And by April 11th the comet…

Apr 11

By April 20th the comet will be shining amongst the stars of Cassiopeia…

Apr 20

…but how bright will it be? we’ll probably need binoculars by then, but who knows? Maybe its activity will linger on… we’ll just have to wait and see..!

So, that’s what we’ve got to look forward to when Comet PANSTARRS arrives in our sky in Spring 2013. By the time the comet is shining in Cassiopeia, heading up into the starclouds of the northern Milky Way, we should all have taken a lot of photographs of it, but even better will have gained a LOT of really valuable experience of observing and photographing a naked eye comet – fantastic preparation for when ISON appears over the horizon at the end of the year…

Can’t wait! 🙂

130 Responses to “Comet PANSTARRS”

  1. […] mit der Realität, ein Webcast am 15.3., ein PR der R.A.S. und neue Artikel in Deutsch (alt.) und Englisch (mehr) – leider schafft es weiter praktisch niemand, den Kometen richtig […]

  2. People are saying it’s so unfortunate that it’ll be in the sunset sky and will be hard to see, but I’m unclear on why.
    The comet will be appearing more or less on the horizon, shortly after sunset. As the night goes on will that position hold steady, or will it dip back below the horizon line?

    • No the comet will set the same as the sun. The further from the sun it gets, the high we will see it in the sky.

  3. Thanks for the YouTube link of PANSTARRS’ visibility in India…

  4. […] Check out this link for information on Comet Panstarrs and others. Comet PANSTARRS | WAITING FOR ISON […]

  5. Bueno, creo que esto es para Ricardos… suertudos!

  6. […] […]

  7. nice information!
    I am excited to watch this comet!

  8. hi all, im new to astronomy. currently in japan, ibaraki prefecture, jososhi.. saw something that looked like the comet PANSTARRS but am not sure if it is. couldnt take a snap of it too. it was like the pictures taken in australia, but it was going upwards. and it was west and abit high up the horizon, just before sunset.. did i see the comet PANSTARRS?

    • Arunn, what you describe sounds too bright and high to be the comet. It even sounds like you were able to detect some motion across sky. It’s more likely that you saw an airplane contrail, illuminated by the setting sun. Those can be striking. The deciding factor will be whether or not it can be spotted from night to night as shown in the charts.

  9. Hello many thanks for the information . But i have installed the sky safari but there are no object for panstarrs ??? Plz can me i live in middle east (Bahrain).

  10. Wednesday night, I had no luck with clear skies,unobstructed view on a wide open. lake Moultrie above Moncks Corner SC. TOTALLY CLEAR except for the haze of twilight that was hovering around 8 degrees, so it should have been visibleto the left of the crescent smile. I froze my finger tips off in the lake winds and had great pain in feeling my aperature and shutter speed buttons. Was all set up for naught. 2 hours and even paid my girl to come in and work for me. Wow what a bummer. I dont understand why even with binoculars that i searched in vain. The only thing is it must have been below the very slight haze, but that haze line was around 8 degrees maybe 10 tops. The comet should have been around 13 degrees and no more than 10 degrees left of the moon in southeast SC according to charts I have seen. Does anyone have a possible reason? Hooing for gteat weather in Nov Dec for ISON. THEIR IS A TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE coming to my area i think soon…let me find out again. Good luck and happy shooting

  11. […] […]

  12. […] Aachen (nochmal) und Niederkrüchten – und ein Untergangs-Video aus Gladbeck sowie einen langen Bericht über eine öffentliche Beobachtung in Nordengland vergangene Nacht. [22:40 […]

  13. Hi Stuart, thank you for your wonderful blog. It helped me to confidently go out last night, 12th March, and take some nice shots of the comet from a hill near Stirling, Scotland. Despite me not finding it with my own eyes or the binoculars, I did get quite a lot of nice shots of the moon and the comet together and single and like you I saw it dip away in the far away trees. After that, I stayed around for more moon and star photography and even saw M31 the very moment a satellite flew through it on its orbit. A night to remember! I’m very glad to read that you and your group were now lucky as well and fully support the little girls emotional response, like a fairy in the sky it shone! Hope there will be more but the weather is now very unpromising here as well.

  14. Again on Friday evening, the skies above Kendal, UK looked promising so Stuart and a colleague were up the Castle again and I was at another western horizon spot (Helsington) very near Kendal. We all had views again of Panstarrs for 5 to 10 minutes. I felt it was higher in the sky – assume it will be relative to earth as it flies away from the sun.
    It’ll be interesting to see how the tail evolves.
    Not obvioulsy as bright as Hale-Bopp (nowhere near) but us Northern Hemisphere watchers have been starved in recent years so we think we deserve the good views we are now getting. Will have to sacrificde a few more virgins to get some more clear evenings? Any volunteers?

  15. Still haven’t seen this comet myself. The UK weather always ends up ruining everything. Cloud cover ruined the Great Leonid shower of about ten years ago, it ruined the total eclipse of the sun on 11th August 1999; it ruined my viewing of the Northern lights a few weeks ago, it ruined the last lunar eclipse; it ruined my viewing of Comet McNaught a few years ago, and now it’s ruining my viewing of PannsPeople:(. Very annoyed…but never surprised.

    Thanks for making and updating a great website and resource Stuart. It’s my goto webpage for everything comet this year. Cheers!

    • Same Here (India)… Cloud Cover and Factory smoke ruin everything!!!
      I always have to go to the highest place in my city to at least expect a view, and it’s really tiresome to go up that hill. nevertheless, all in the name of curiosity and interest… but still haven’t been able to see it at least once in five days straight, although i missed one day. and -boom!- everyone else saw it…crap…
      Will go again this evening… I’ll be surprised if I am able to see it.

      Anyway, All the best to you too ! 🙂

  16. I think I may possibly have a photo of the comet Pan Starrs. How can I get it to you for your examination ?

  17. Saturday evening and we all take a chance up at Helsington, nr Kendal hoping for our 3rd chance at viewing. For ages the horizon clouds fought a battle to hide Panstarrs from us but finally it appeared underneath a big black cloud and gave us about 30 mins of decent viewing. Stu and others took photos – see Stu’s twitter pics. What I would say to others is you do have to persevere – tonight we nearly gave up – the more viewers the better as it isn’t easy to see. It was higher up than we thought it might be but you are still viewing through a lot of atmosphere. The lakes has cleanish air but we also have our fair share of rain so now regard ourselves as lucky. Roll on tomorrow night – maybe Panstarrs and an aurora!

  18. Got lucky last night and saw it from downtown Miami Fl just after 8:00PM EDST at ~ 15 degrees above the western horizon (~285 degrees)in the orange sky region of the sunset using 10×50 binoculars. Many people using binoculars as the author describes should see it if they try. Miami has a lot of light pollution and I could still see it, if only for about 5 minutes before it vanished in the evening haze. Good luck to all since its nice to know if you see it, it will be another 106000 years before it returns again!

  19. I took a few other photos from Southern Spain from an observatory in Antequera, I’ve added a full res gallery on the same webpage for those interested:

    • Great pics, thanks. Good report too. Might be an idea to get the author to change the bit about ISON being ‘as bright as the Full Moon’, for reasons I explain elsewhere in this blog. And probably best to change ‘astrologers’ to ‘astronomers’ too 😉

  20. Photo taken of Comet PANSTARRS and crescent moon from Big Sur California on the night of March 12, 2013. Tried again the following night but got fog instead 😦

  21. Great, Its an encyclopedia of Panstarrs viewing-Thanks a lot!

  22. It couldn’t be more helpfull, you said everything we could possible need, now I hope the sky is clear one of theses days Round here in Fraserburgh , we are anxious to see the comet too. Tks.

  23. I live in farm country in eastern Washington state – 46° N … little competition from light … but no PanSTARR luck … until TONIGHT!! I’m feeling so accomplished – as I don’t really know what I’m doing and don’t have much in terms of equipment …. but I spotted it by scanning with binoculars!! 285° W … a little higher than the 15° that I had come to expect. I was facing a brisk winter wind that had tears streaming down both cheeks the entire time I was trying to scan the skies. So I don’t know if I really had emotional tears when I finally spotted it after my 9 night quest … but it felt like I might. It was never bright enough to spot with the naked eye – except possibly the hint of it when looking just to the side of it so as to allow the rods rather than cones of the eye to absorb the faint streak. But with binoculars … the tail was pretty dramatic. I’m SO relieved to have finally met my goal!! I tried and tried to capture an image of it with my Nikon D90 – but I don’t know HOW!! I just bought it last summer and I still haven’t learned any of the settings and I don’t know much of anything about photography – but I’d love to learn. I don’t know if my lens is strong enough even if I did know how to dial in the appropriate settings. Can anybody tell me exactly what to do with that particular camera for something so faint and distant?? Is the trick in the strength of the lens? I have a tripod.

    • Well done on finding the comet! She’s a beauty, isn’t she? As for taking photos, just scroll down this page and you’ll find lots of advice about taking photos. If your questions aren’t answered there, let me know. – Stu

  24. Great blog – you’ve been really helpful with tips on finding and capturing images of PanSTARRS – I’ve got a couple of good shots of the comet on my site at – be happy to share them with you!

  25. “(hi, Simon!)” made me laugh out loud, yes Stu, definitely drooling at that prospect 🙂

    I’ve been doing some interesting work on Google Earth to plot the bearing (azimuth) of various skyline features from favourite observing locations. The very recognisable outline of Harrison Stickle is at 311 degrees from Helsington Church (sadly now only 306 from the Mushroom) so should be a great catching feature for PANSTARRS at 20:39 this evening.

    See you there!

  26. Hi mate, I can totally commiserate with you on the weather. Its been the very same here in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Colorado pretty much since Panstarrs moved into our skies. I’m a die hard, much like you so its been very frustrating not being able to photograph this shy little comet. I have had 4 opportunities and have some ok shots and I’m so happy to have seen Panstarrs as much as I have. 4 nights since the 10th of March isn’t that great. Clear as ever today, hope it holds for this evening the 25th. I love your blog and all the work you’ve done. Its very cool and useful too. I like your attitude too. Freakin doomsdayers?!@#@!?? Thanks for such a cool site and sharing your stories, I wish I had a castle here to hang out around and photograph. Maybe I can come visit you some day. You never know. Happy comet chasing, Michael Kelly

  27. Finally saw it. Even got a fuzzy photo or two. (See blog.)

  28. […] More details on how to find the comet on this link. […]

  29. Caught PANSTARRS March 12 and 23 so far. Here’s a time-lapse video with footage from those nights:

  30. So comforting to find that it isn’t just me having problems with seeing Panstarrs from the UK (I saw it for a few seconds on 13/03, so I’m definitely printing out a copy of the badge! But so far, nothing since.)

  31. Thanks to your site i went ahead and tried to get the comet.!/photo.php?fbid=3849422652586&set=pb.1788836000.-2207520000.1365036536&type=3&theater

    • Thanks Roland, brilliant to hear you saw PANSTARRS and that my blog helped you find it! Tonight looks like being clear across the UK, so have another try!

  32. Finally got two good viewing sessions this week (from the moors near Bolton Abbey – good dark-sky site) and it was down to the viewing tips on this site that I managed to find Panstarrs, so many thanks! Actually got a couple of photos last night – not spectacular, but the comet’s recognisable. Looking forward to the Andromeda galaxy conjunction at the weekend!

    • Well done Peter, glad you managed to see it and that my blog was helpful, that’s really good to know! Clear again across the UK tonight, we think, so take another look. When the weather turns we’ll lose it quickly.

  33. Wow, what an incredibly informative narrative. Thank you. I was lucky enough to see the comet and photograph it on March 12th alongside the beautiful new crescent moon. I wish it had a been a bit less windy and warmer though, ouch it was cold. I’m really looking forward to ISON later and will check back here to see your info on it.

  34. nice super i love it

  35. Thanks a lot, very interesting entry. I’m glad to have found this page, I will definitely come back here often.

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