I haven't seen a diary on this yet, so I figured I'd post one. If I missed one, I apologize.
2013 is being billed as the "Year Of The Comets." The really bright one will light up our skies this coming November, but the first of the two, Pan-STARRS, is all ready here. Star-gazers in the Southern hemisphere have been taking some pretty incredible pictures of it. But tonight, it makes its debut in the Northern hemisphere. Follow me below the orange hoopty-do of astronomic coolness for more:
Right after sundown tonight, Pan-STARRS will be visible low on the western horizon, very close to where the sun has set. Sunday is when astronomers believe the comet will be at its brightest, since that's when it will be the closest to the sun. Should be a pretty good show.
I'd post a picture, but I haven't quite worked out how to do that on DKos yet. But I have worked out how to do youtube videos! Here's a guy with a timeline of Pan-STARRS:
Comets, of course, are usually huge chunks of dust and ice that get sucked into the sun's gravity and start to heat up. When this happens, the melting vapors and gasses tail off behind them and can extend millions of miles. After the comet escapes the sun's pull, they cool off again and drift back out into the outer solar system.
Beautiful things to look at in the night sky. Smashing into Earth? Not so much! Lucky for us, we've got a giant sneeze-guard/tennis racket that protects us from most impacts in Jupiter! Shoemaker-Levy? Back in 1994? Thanks, Jupiter! Had that been us? (Shudder) Bad. Day. I guess the only up-shot, is that it would have been quick. Here's a rather dry, though good BBC clip:
So happy star-gazing tonight and through next week!