First up in March, we will be treated by a view of Comet Pan-STARRS (C/2011 L4), named for the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, the telescope which first spotted it back in June of last year. It is expected to have a peak magnitude somewhere in the range from +1 to -1.
But that is just the warm-up act. The real show will be in December, when Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) puts in its appearance. Discovered just last month by Vitali Nevski and Aryom Novichonok, participants in the International Scientific Optical Network. This newcomer is thought to be fresh from the Oort cloud. Having never made a close approach to the Sun, it should put on a particularly bright show as its outer shell vaporizes and forms a tail. Some estimates optimistically predict that it might shine as brightly as the full Moon!
For more information on Comet Pan-STARRS:
- JPL Small-Body Database Browser (entry for C/2011 L4)
- Elements and Ephemeris for C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS)
- Comet Pan-STARRS: Still on Track - Observing Blog - SkyandTelescope.com
For more information on Comet ISON:
- JPL Small-Body Database Browser (entry for C/2012 S1)
- Elements and Ephemeris for C/2012 S1 (ISON)
- “Once in a Civilization” Comet to Zip past Earth Next Year | Observations, Scientific American Blog Network
- A "Dream Comet" Heading Our Way? - Observing Blog - SkyandTelescope.com
- New comet will light up the sky - Astronomy Magazine
- Short Sharp Science: Newly spotted comet may outshine the full moon
- New comet might blaze brighter than the full Moon