Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

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March 8, 2013

Comet visible tonight, if weather cooperates

OTTUMWA — People in the northern hemisphere are about to get a treat: A comet visible to the naked eye.

NASA calls such a comet a "rare delicacy" for watchers. Over the course of this month, Comet Panstarrs should be visible to those who look. But it could be tricky.

How rare are comets visible to people without telescopes or binoculars? Experts say they only appear every five or 10 years. Even at that rate, not every comet is visible to everyone on earth. That makes Panstarrs something worth taking the time to spot.

The comet should be visible just after sunset. It will be low on the horizon, so you will need to be at an open area in order to spot it. It should be visible tonight, but only for about 15 minutes after sunset. And that's if there are no clouds.

Panstarrs should be easier to spot as it climbs higher in the sky for a few days, but it's likely to slip back into invisibility by the end of the month.

This is a rare year for sky watchers. Panstarrs is only the first of two comets that should become visible. Comet Ison will make its appearance late this year and, if it survives a brush with the sun intact, could become the most spectacular comet to pass by in years.

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