March is Good Star and Comet Viewing in Oregon, Coast Range
(Portland, Oregon) – There will be two reasons to stand around in the night sky in March: one includes a comet that will be streaking closely by and the other a Star Party held by Portland's OMIS in the coast range and in the Gorge. (Above: a meteor or Irridium Flare above Manzanita).
What is known as Comet PANSTARRS will be swinging by the Earth and March 10 should mark a period of good viewing, according to OMSI Planetarium Manager Jim Todd.
“Comet PANSTARRS is expected to be visible to the naked eye when it is closest to the Sun on March 10, 2013,” Todd said. “By the end of April, it will disappear from naked eye visibility.”
PANSTARRS is a non-periodic comet, which means it has only passed through this Solar System once. Todd said it seems to be a new arrival from the Oort Cloud, the mass of space debris floating around the farther edges of this system.
“Comets that have never before been warmed by the Sun have a way of brightening early, suggesting great things to come, and then dwindling after a coating of especially volatile material bakes off the nucleus,” Todd said. “As the comet approaches the Sun, it will be south of the Sun and Earth, giving viewers in the southern hemisphere the opportunity to observe the comet in late February and early March. A bright tail and coma will begin to form as it approaches the Sun.”
Comets are dirty snowballs, Todd said, with a rock in their center. Most are potato-shaped, with their long axis usually no more than several miles in diameter.
“As the comet moves closer and closer to the Sun, the ice melts, and vaporizes,” Todd said. “The coma of a comet consists of the nucleus surrounded by its vaporized gases and dust particles. The Sun then blows these gas and dust particles away from the comet, forming the comet's tail. In most cases, the coma can be 200,000+ miles wide with the nucleus only few miles wide. As a result, a gas and dust tail is formed.”
Todd said look to the skies in early March for PANSTARRS. Make sure to bring binoculars and the March star map. A clear view of the western sky is important. Look about 10 degrees above the western horizon after sunset, where the constellation of Pegasus can be found, and the approximate location of the comet at this time.
“Remember, if you hold your fist out at arm’s length, the distance between the lower and upper part of your fist measures about 10 degrees,” Todd said. “Around March 12th when the comet will appear, you'll see a fuzzy looking star with a tail.”
Until the end of March, the comet will move due north through the constellations Pisces and Andromeda, with its brightness dropping about a magnitude every five days. The tail will swing through at a 90-degree angle, turning from east to north.
On Saturday March 23, OMSI, Rose City Astronomers and Vancouver Sidewalk Astronomers will celebrate the vernal equinox and the beginning of spring with a free Star Party at both Rooster Rock State Park in the Gorge and L.L. "Stub" Stewart State Park in the Oregon coast range.
Viewing highlights includes the planets Jupiter and Saturn, waxing gibbous Moon, deep sky objects including the Orion Nebula, Beehive star cluster and more. As a bonus: possible viewing of the visible comet PANSTARRS.
The event starts at 7:30 pm and is free with $5 parking per vehicle. Warm clothing and a flashlight with red light are recommended. Personal telescopes and binoculars are welcome.
On the scheduled day of each OMSI Star Parties, it is suggested that interested visitors call the OMSI Star Parties Hotline, (503) 797-4610 #2, or check the OMSI Star Parties web site for possible weather-related cancellations.
More about Oregon coast science below:
More About Oregon Coast hotels, lodging.....
More About Oregon Coast Restaurants, Dining.....
LATEST OREGON COAST NEWS STORIES
Back to Oregon Coast
Contact Advertise on BeachConnection.net