Posted Tuesday, March 19, 2013, at 8:00 AM
Image credit: Jean-Luc Dauvergne
I wasn’t going to post about the bright comet Pan-STARRS for a couple of more days, but simply incredible stuff keeps pouring in.
First, the picture at the top goes to show you that sometimes, setting is everything. It was taken by Jean-Luc Dauvergne, a journalist at Ciel Et Espace, a French magazine of astronomy. If his name, the name of the magazine, or the adjective “French” didn’t tip you off, perhaps the picture itself will: He caught Pan-STARRS as it set behind the Eiffel Tower!
Better yet, that picture is just one of many he took, so he put them together into this lovely time-lapse animation:
That is ridiculously cool. He has another incredible shot of the comet and the Moon that has to be seen to be believed. The dark part of the Moon is illuminated by reflected Earthlight, called Earthshine. It's usually faint, but a time exposure like this one really makes it, well, shine.
I’ve already posted a few images taken by NASA’s STEREO Sun-observing spacecraft, which is currently located about 120° around the Sun from Earth, looking back toward us. Pan-STARRS dominates its view right now, and our own planet can be seen as well. The good folks at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio put together a short animation showing the comet moving through the field of view as well as a series of solar eruptions blasting out billions of tons of subatomic particles (including one from Mar. 16 that sparked aurorae here on Earth):
I really want to get pictures of this comet myself, but of course cursed the whole endeavor by getting a new camera, guaranteeing clouds for the next few days (this is typical; any astronomer will tell you that the best cure for a drought is to buy a telescope). But I did get to see it on Mar. 13. I tweeted the picture, but here it is just because:
Image credit: Phil Plait
This is through my 20cm (8”) telescope using an iPhone I held by hand up to the eyepiece. It’s way better than it deserves to be; the tail can be traced right out of the frame in the original.
Image credit: Phil Plait
And because why not, here’s Jupiter taken the same way; you can see four moons (in order, left to right: Callisto, Europa, Io, and Ganymede off by itself). I still need a bit more gear to hook up my new camera to the ‘scope, but I’ll be taking care of that soon… though probably not before the comet’s gone. Oh well. I just hope to be able to see it again with my own eyes before it fades away. I'll never get tired of that.