Posted Monday, March 18, 2013, at 12:56 PM
Gaislachkogel Mountain in Ötztal, Austria.
Image credit: Christoph Malin
Comet Pan-STARRS is still going strong in the western skies for folks north of the Earth’s equator. It’s been cloudy here in Boulder (of course, because I just got a fancy new camera, sigh) so I haven’t seen it in a few days, though I’m hopeful for tonight.
But even if it starts to pour rain I can console myself that others are getting a spectacular view of it…even if they have to work for it. Astrophotographer Christoph Malin decided the only way to escape the clouds was to go above them, climbing 3000+ meters (9800 feet) to the top of Gaislachkogel Mountain in Ötztal, Austria. It was a brisk -20° C there, but he thinks it was worth it. He took enough pictures to create a fantastic time-lapse video of the comet:
I think it was worth it, too.
Incidentally, SpaceWeather.com is reporting the comet may be fragmenting. This happens sometimes with comets; they are essentially collections of rocks, pebbles, and dust held together by ice. That ice (ammonia, water, carbon dioxide, and more) turns into gas as the comet warms near the Sun, releasing the material that becomes the tail. Larger chunks can dislodge in an event called calving. Sometimes the comet even disintegrates completely! We’ll have to see what happens with Pan-STARRS over the next few weeks. One calving does not a disintegration make, but it does show the comet is active and—like almost all its brethren—still able to give us a surprise or two.