A comet named Pan-STARRS will appear in Hong Kong's sky at dusk in mid-March and before dawn in early April. If weather permits, people in Hong Kong will be able to see for themselves this rare astronomical phenomenon.
Comet Pan-STARRS - properly known as C/2011 L4 - came closest to Earth on March 5, passing only 160 million kilometres away. On March 10, it passed through its perihelion and attained a maximum brightness of magnitude two. In Hong Kong, the public may try to look for the comet near the western horizon after sunset in mid-March. At this time, however, the comet will be less than 10 degrees from the horizon, allowing less than half an hour for observation. Observers should find a place from which there is nothing obstructing the view to the west. Alternatively, the public may try again in early April and look for it just above the north-eastern horizon about half an hour before sunrise. However, as it will only be shining at magnitude five by then a pair of binoculars will be necessary to observe it.
The comet was discovered by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) on June 6, 2011. It was located between the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn. Generally, only intrinsically bright comets can be picked up at such a great distance.
The curator of the Hong Kong Space Museum, Mr Chan Ki-hung, said, "There are quite a number of comets visiting us every year but those visible to the naked eye like this one are still rare. The last spectacular comet visible in Hong Kong was Hale-Bopp in 1997.
"Three bright comets will be visible in Hong Kong this year, namely Pan-STARRS, Lemmon and ISON. Among them ISON, which will be closest to Earth at the end of this year, is not to be missed as it will be the most spectacular and observation conditions in Hong Kong will be favourable. The Hong Kong Space Museum and the Hong Kong Observatory will monitor the progress of ISON closely and disseminate related information to the public at suitable times," Mr Chan said.
For details of the comet Pan-STARRS, please visit the Hong Kong Space Museum website at www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/Museum/Space/StarShine/AstroEvent/Panstarrs/e_starshine_panstarrs_C2011L4.htm .
Ends/Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Issued at HKT 15:31
Photo shows the comet Pan-STARRS (C/2011 L4), taken at Hong Kong International Airport on March 10. The photo was provided by Mr Lawrence Mok.