A busy night sky in March

Get ready to spend more time outside for stargazing fun in March. This is shaping up to be the ‘year of the comets.’ The entire astronomy community is waiting for the visit of three amazing comets to our solar system, and it starts next week!

Comet Pan-Starrs is due to pass by and should be visible in early March in the West as it swings around the Sun and re-emerges into our evening twilight. Comets are usually named after their discoverers but in this case, Pan-Starrs was named after the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System which was used to find the visitor.

Well known Australian astronomer and writer for Australian Science magazine Dave Reneke said, “Binoculars should easily show a bright head and swept back tail pointing away from the Sun. Mark your calendar for March 12, there’s a special treat in store. On that date, the thin lunar crescent will join the comet for a rare photogenic pairing.”

Comet LEMMON which is now receding slowing away from Earth on it’s approach to the Sun, but should remain just above the naked eye limit for some time as it continues to approach the Sun. If we’re lucky, Lemmon may still be near the naked eye limit and visible in ordinary binoculars. Look for it around March 24.

Now, the moon could have some serious competition on November 29. Get ready for a fantastic sight as comet ISON approaches the Earth. This ‘dirty snowball’ could produce a dazzling display. Some are predicting it will burn brighter than the moon and even be visible in broad daylight!

“It may prove to be brighter than any comet of the last century – it will literally knock your socks off,” David said. “Comet ISON will be visible low in the east before sunrise in the week or two before closest approach and yes, it’ll be visible all around the world.”

Dave said he’s been getting many enquiries about telescopes leading up to Easter. People are buying telescopes because the nights are getting better and the Aussie skies are so clear this time of year. If you’re thinking of buying, here’s a quick guide to help you make the right decision.

When selecting a telescope, consider which target objects you plan to explore as well as your level of experience. For skygazing you’ll want a telescope with as much ‘aperture’ as possible. Keep in mind that as the size of the glass lens or mirror increases, so does the size of the telescope.

So be sure to select a telescope that isn’t too heavy to manage or too complicated for you to set up, especially if portability is a necessity. Remember, the best way to spot a cheap and nasty scope is if you can pick the whole thing up, tripod included, with one hand. Run!

‘Refractors’ are shaped like a long tube which you look through from one end to the other. They’re perfect for observing the Moon and planets and great for first time novice astronomers. If you’re interested in viewing both land and night sky objects, refractors are equipped for both uses.

‘Reflectors’ are telescopes designed with the eyepiece located at the top of the tube and a glass mirror at the bottom. Reflectors are becoming more popular to use for viewing night sky objects such as nebulae, the Moon, planets and galaxies. Reflectors tend to be heavier and larger than refractors, but cheaper to buy.

If you’re looking for a telescope to suit your needs visit the website at www.davidreneke.com or drop him an email. Dave will help you out with some free advice.

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