On July 15, 2015, Colin Legg in Australia photographed the comet that’s going to be in the same part of the sky this weekend as the spectacular display of the moon and bright planets Venus and Jupiter. It’s called C/2014 Q1 (PANSTARRS), and if it were in a darker sky, we’d all be rushing out to see it. As it is, the Southern Hemisphere has a better chance of seeing this comet over the next few days as it reaches a maximum brightness. Colin wrote:
A nice little comet is briefly appearing in southern hemisphere skies over the next few days. Last night was the first good night with it setting at astronomical twilight.
Over the next few nights it will climb higher but also fade as it leaves the sun. Friday night it will sit around 1/2 way between the moon and Jupiter. Best seen between 6:40 and 7 pm. Saturday night it will be around 3 degrees below and slightly left of the moon. Best seen in binoculars.
200 mm cropped, 2.5 sec, iso 6400, f/2.8
Colin said he only saw the comet in binoculars, by the way, and that twilight was too bright to view it with the unaided eye. He said he was going to try to capture the comet near the moon this weekend, so stay tuned! He also provided this (somewhat rough) image showing the tail of the comet in more detail. Thank you, Colin!
The comet passed perihelion – its closest point to the sun – on July 6. Its current magnitude is 4, within the limit for visibility with the unaided eye. But it’s against a background of bright twilight and thus very, very difficult to see, especially from the Northern Hemisphere. It’s just above the treetops at sunset and quickly follows the sun below the western horizon.
Bottom line: If Comet C/2014 Q1 (PANSTARRS) were in a darker sky, we’d all be rushing out to see it. As it is, Southern Hemisphere observers might catch it over the next few days, in the same part of the sky as this weekend’s spectacular display of the moon, Venus and Jupiter.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.