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Comet at its brightest this weekend

Posted By GABRIELLE LEVY, UPI.com   |   March 8, 2013 at 12:38 PM   |   Comments

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March 8 (UPI) -- The first of several bright comets to visit our night sky this year will be at its brightest over the weekend.

Comet Pan-STARRS will be visible to the naked eye this weekend as it makes its closest pass to the sun.

Although Pan-STARRS won't be the most brilliant comet to dazzle Earthlings this year, NASA's near-Earth object mission NEOWISE principal investigator Amy Mainzer offers some advice to stargazers looking for a view.

"There is a catch to viewing Comet Pan-STARRS," she said in a statement. "This one is not that bright and is going to be low on the western horizon, so you'll need a relatively unobstructed view to the southwest at twilight and, of course, some good comet-watching weather."

The comet, which is expected to remain visible to to the naked eye through the end of the month, was discovered in June 2011 by astronomers in Hawaii. Its official designation, C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS), refers to the date and the telescope used to spot it: the Panaoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System.

Astronomers traced the comet to the Oort cloud -- out past Neptune's orbit, about a light year from the sun.

At its brightest point this weekend, the comet will get as close as 28 million miles from the sun. It came within 102 million miles from Earth when it flew by March 4.

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