Skywatchers hope Pan-STARRS Comet pans out

Clouds might obscure view of the celestial show

A comet visible to the naked eye in the Northern Hemisphere through the end of March might be difficult to see in parts of Southern Oregon this week because of cloud cover.

The Pan-STARRS Comet is at its most visible point low in the western sky during twilight hours, but it is likely to be obscured in the Rogue Valley during many key viewing windows, according to the National Weather Service.

"We're probably going to see high clouds across this area through early next week," said NWS meteorologist Connie Clarstrom. "I think we're going to have some high clouds interfering, but (seeing the comet) is not outside the realm of possibility."

The heavy clouds are the result of an upper-level jet stream heading into Washington state and British Columbia, which will result in several storms for the affected area.

"We just get the tail end of a lot of storms, which results in high clouds," Clarstrom said.

Breaks in the clouds, allowing for quick glimpses of the comet, could happen tonight and Monday, March 18. Viewing from higher elevations during those times will increase the likelihood of seeing the comet.

"Anything that you can get to that's on higher ground in the eastern hills is better, or if you can find a spot on the backside of the western hills," said Scott Hubert, ScienceWorks activities coordinator and vice president for Southern Oregon Skywatchers. "The higher you are, the better."

The comet made its closest pass to the sun Saturday, at a distance of about 28 million miles, according to a news release from NASA. Its close proximity to the star is why it can be viewed without a telescope. The comet showed up next to the crescent moon Tuesday night.

"It's going to stay pretty close to the sun for pretty much the whole time," Hubert said. "It'll be (visible) right on the horizon."

The comet's visibility should fade completely by month's end, NASA officials said.

Similar viewing opportunities generally occur once every five to 10 years.

"They really are sporadic," said Robert Black, North Medford High School astronomy teacher and planetarium director. "I hope this really pans out, because it really gets the interest up."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or Follow him on Twitter at

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