Duelling comets compete for stargazers' attention

01:23, Feb 28 2013
Comet Lemmon (left) and comet Panstarrs (right).

Duelling comets are competing for the attention of Manawatu stargazers as they blaze across the region's twilight sky.

Palmerston North Astronomical Society President Ian Cooper said it was only the third time in 160 years that two comets had been visible to the naked eye in Manawatu.

"It's pretty rare actually.  And they're an easy target for people to spot too because they're both in the southwest part of the sky."

The brightest of the two comets is Panstarrs - an orange ball with a dusty tail which can be seen each night between 9pm to 9.45.

The other comet, Lemmon, has more of a green tinge and less of a tail and is visible at the same time as Panstarrs.

Both are making a close flyby of the sun for the first time after being dislodged from their seemingly stable orbit in the Oort Cloud at the furthest reaches of the solar system.


Cooper said the clear conditions had made it perfect for the public to get a good view of them, and with more clear weather forecast he recommended people check them out for themselves.

Panstarrs is around until about the March 8 and Lemmon will follow Panstarrs to the northern hemisphere at Easter.

How to view the comets:

-         Head out of the city and get to a place with a clear view of the low, south-west horizon.

-         If you cannot get out of the city, get to the north-east side of a large nearby park at about 9pm and look towards the south-west sky.

-         Binocular use is recommended.

-         Panstarrs is the brightest and can be seen between 9 and 9.45pm.

-         Lemmon can be found at the same time to the upper-left of Panstarrs at a distance of a little more than an outstretched hand at arms-length.

Manawatu Standard