MELBOURNE, FLA.—To kick off the "Year of the Comet," Florida Institute of Technology's F.W. Olin Observatory will be open to the public on the evening of March 18, from 8 to 10 p.m., for a viewing of Comet Pan-STARRS. Members of the Student Astronomical Society will be on hand to answer any questions.
Comets are icy bodies that originate in the outer solar system, some of which are 50,000 times further away from the Sun than the Earth. Consequently, comets can have orbital periods of several hundred thousand years; most comets we only get to see once. As they approach the Sun some of their ice is evaporated producing a characteristic tail and coma, or bright nucleus.
Comet Pan-STARRS bears the name of the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, a telescopic survey that discovered it in June 2011. Developed in 2010 at the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy, the Pan-STARRS project observes the entire sky on a continual basis. Its main objective is to discover and characterize approaching objects that may endanger Earth.
Previously seen in the Southern Hemisphere, Comet Pan-STARRS is one of two comets visible to the naked eye this year. Comet ISON, which is expected to be brighter and more spectacular than Comet Pan-STARRS, will make its appearance in November.
The comet viewing at Florida Tech will take place in then F.W. Olin Observatory on the fourth floor of the F.W. Olin Physical Sciences Building on campus. In the event of bad weather, there will be another opportunity to see the comet through a telescope during Florida Tech's monthly Science Public Lecture and observatory open house March 22.
For more information call (321) 674-7207, or visit www.fit.edu/aapls.