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Comet Pan-STARRS is seen over the western horizon and just above Mount Taylor, from Albuquerque, N.M., Tuesday evening, March 12, 2013. The comet passed within 100 million miles of Earth last week. (AP Photo/Albuquerque Journal, Morgan Petroski)
Photos: Comet poses beside crescent moon in cool photo op
First Published Mar 14 2013 08:20 am • Last Updated Mar 14 2013 01:10 pm

Twilight on Tuesday provided the best photo op for the comet called Pan-STARRS, visible in the Northern Hemisphere just above the western horizon — right next to a crescent moon.

Pan-STARRS was visible for weeks from the Southern Hemisphere before popping up on the upper half of the globe in recent days.

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Although billions of year old, Pan-STARRS is making its first-ever cruise through the inner solar system. The ice ball passed within 28 million miles of the sun Sunday, its closest approach to our star and within the orbit of Mercury.

California astronomer Tony Phillips said the comet did not appear to decay during its brush with the sun, even though it encountered 10 times more intense solar rays than what we’re used to here on Earth.

Last Tuesday, Pan-STARRS made its closest approach ever of Earth.

The comet’s name is actually an acronym for the telescope in Hawaii used to discover it two years ago: the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System.

Astronomers believe Pan-STARRS somehow got kicked out of the Oort Cloud that is full of icy bodies beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto, and propelled into the inner solar system.

It will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere for weeks to come.

Have no fear: Pan-STARRS poses no threat to Earth. Neither does comet ISON, which promises to outdo Pan-STARRS.

Astronomers believe ISON will rival the moon in brightness, come November.


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