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Comet Pan-STARRS Dresses Up Night Skies, Visible With Naked Eye

posted 14 Mar 2013, 15:34 by Mpelembe   [ updated 14 Mar 2013, 15:35 ]

Comet Pan-STARRS shoots across the skies leaving a milky white trail in its wake delighting comet watchers gathered to watch the celestial body.

SANTA FENEW MEXICOUNITED STATES (MARCH 12, 2013) (MUST COURTESY MICHAEL ZEILER/ECLIPSE-MAPS.COM) -  Video images captured Comet Pan-STARRS zipping across the sky, clearly visible to the naked eye.

The videos shot on Tuesday (March 12) and Wednesday (March 13) were obtained by Reuters from Michael Zeiler of The comet appears as a fuzzy spot of light streaking across the night sky followed by a blurry white tail in its wake.

The comet, officially known as Comet C/2011 L4, was discovered in June 2011 by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, or Pan-STARRS, in Hawaii.

Comet Pan-STARRS is believed to be a first-time visitor to Earth after being gravitationally bumped out from the Oort Cloud, a repository of small icy bodies located beyond Pluto in the solar system's back yard.

Comets, which are comprised of minerals, rocks and ice, are believed to be remnants from the formation of the solar system some 4.5 billion years ago.

As a comet approaches the sun, some of its ice vaporizes, creating an envelope of gas and dust, called a coma, around its body. The heating also generates two tails, each of which can be more than 1 million miles (1.6 million km) long.

One tail is comprised of dust and the other is made of molecules ionized by sunlight.

Comet Pan-STARRS currently is inside the orbit of Mercury and brightening as it heads toward the sun.

Comet Pan-STARRS may just be the warm-up act for another celestial visitor due to arrive in November. If it is not destroyed by the sun, Comet ISON has the potential to be as bright as a full moon, possibly even visible in daylight.