During our local astronomy club meeting last week, someone shared a recent picture of comet Pan-STARRS C/2011 L4, and I thought “Hey. I thought that comet was long gone! Maybe I should write an update on the comets.”
I discovered that L4 is still viewable in telescopes larger than 4” at a +11 magnitude, and photographing it reveals an amazing tail. An ion tail and a dust tail are clearly visible, while an anti-tail is pointing in the opposite direction towards the sun. I hadn’t heard of anti-tails, but apparently they form when the pressure of sunlight blows fresh dust back from the comet’s head.
In the meantime, ISON is currently streaking towards us at a leisurely 50,351 mph. Touted as possibly the brightest thing since sliced bread, ISON may not put on the show that everyone promised. It stopped brightening at the beginning of this year and has stagnated around +16 magnitude. Although it briefly sprouted a bright tail, the coma faded and became smaller and less condensed.
Everyone is still waiting to see just what kind of show ISON will put on, and we’ll know the answer to that around November 10 when ISON is expected to be visible to the naked eye. All we can do now is keep our finger’s crossed.