2 large comets to be visible in Japan this year
The Yomiuri Shimbun

Astronomy experts and fans are anxiously awaiting the arrival of two large comets that are predicted to be visible this year to the naked eye.

Comet PanSTARRS should appear from mid-March to April and Comet ISON will be a remarkably bright sight in the sky in early December. Both will be visible because of their proximity to the sun.

Junichi Watanabe, deputy director general of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), said, “This could be the first time since 1997, when Comet Hale-Bopp was seen, that a typical comet with a long tail is visible to the naked eye in Japan.”

A comet is a chunk of ice containing rocks and dust. When a comet approaches the sun, the heat melts the ice. The resulting gas and dust are scattered and the comet appears to have a long tail.

If a comet approaches the sun too closely, all of its ice evaporates.

The NAOJ said neither comet will totally evaporate when approaching the sun, which explains the likelihood they will be visible in Japan.

Comet PanSTARRS, which was discovered in 2011, will come closest to the sun on March 10. The distance between the comet and the sun will be one-third of that between the sun and the Earth.

The NAOJ said the comet can be seen in the lower part of the western sky in early evening from mid-March in Japan, after the comet passes the sun.

Comet ISON was discovered in September 2012 and will most closely approach the sun on Nov. 29. At that time, the distance between the sun and the comet will be nearly a hundredth of that between the sun and the Earth.

The NAOJ expects that the comet’s long bright tail will be visible moving upward in the eastern sky.

(Jan. 10, 2013)