Thursday, March 14, 2013

HU Professors Capture and Explain the PanSTARRS Comet Seen Over Hampton Roads

HU Professors Capture and Explain the PanSTARRS Comet Seen Over Hampton Roads

The PanSTARRS Comet has been in the news recently due to its proximity to Earth’s moon, making it visible to many stargazers and comet lovers in North America and Europe.
On the evenings of March 12 and March 13, Dr. Kunio Sayanagi, HU assistant professor of atmospheric science, was able to take a few pictures of the comet as it blazed across the Hampton Roads skies.
While the comet has been available to observers since the weekend, it has been hard to capture a picture because of the comet’s low position above the horizon.
Dr. WilliamMoore, associate professor of atmospheric and planetary science, researches comets and was able to share information about the PanSTARRS Comet:
“It is called PAN-STARRS after the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, a robotically controlled telescope in Hawaii which first spotted the comet in June 2011.  It is a visitor from the outermost reaches of the solar system, a region known as the Oort cloud.  It takes over 100,000 years to go around the sun, and spends almost all of that time very far away, much further than Pluto.  
When it is out beyond Mars, it is a solid chunk of ices, frozen substances including water, methane, ammonia and dust. When it comes close to the Sun, like it is now, those ices turn into vapors and expand away from the surface of the comet, taking little chunks of ice and dust with them.
The chunks reflect sunlight, like a cloud, that makes the comet look hazy or fluffy. The vapor and dust get blown by the solar wind making the distinctive tail. Comets don't last forever. They lose mass every time they come near the sun, but since PAN-STARRS doesn't do that very often, it should last a long time.”
Sayanagi’s pictures were taken behind the HU Dining Hall. The images capture the comet and it’s tail as it glides across the skies of Hampton Roads. Click on the images to enlarge the picture.
The PanSTARR comet is circled in the image above to the left. The crescent moon is to the right. Picture taken March 12.

The PanSTARRS Comet is circled in the image above. The crescent moon is high above. Picture taken March 13.

The PanSTARRS Comet is circled in the image above, just above the Virginia Air and Space Museum in Downtown Hampton.

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