The Woodward News

March 9, 2013

Comet watch planned at airport

Chris Cooper
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — Astronomy enthusiasts and the public are invited to gather this coming Tuesday evening at the south entrance of the Woodward Regional Airport for a public comet watch.

Natural Science Instructor for NWOSU-Woodward and secretary for the Starcreek Astronomical Society Bobette Doerrie said the comet, which according to NASA is known as comet C/2011 L4 PanSTARRS, originated in a distant part of space from a mass of icy bodies known as the Oort Cloud beyond Neptune.

Doerrie said comet PanSTARRS will be rounding the sun on March 10 and becoming visible in the northern hemisphere next week.  She said the comet has been visible in the southern hemisphere for the last month now, and as it rounds the sun, we can expect it to begin brightening up.

But Doerrie said that comets can sometimes be unpredictable, especially in terms of how bright they become.

 "Sometimes the outside layer [of the comet] burns off as it rounds the sun, leaving very little to form a spectacular tail, and sometimes it outgasses as it heats up and becomes a memorable sight. We just don't know ahead of time," she said.

Doerrie further described the nature of comets using a quote from famous comet discoverer David Levy: "Comets are like cats. They both have tails and they both do exactly what they want to."

Nevertheless, Doerrie is anticipating that residents in the Woodward area should be able to view the comet around the middle of next week.

Doerrie says, weather permitting, the runway at the Woodward Regional Airport will be a great spot to get a clear view of the comet, especially around sunset on Tuesday.

As a nonperiodic comet, this will be the ideal opportunity for its viewing, so Doerrie encourages anyone interested to come out to the airport on Tuesday.

The comet party will start gathering at sundown on Tuesday at 6:56 p.m. to watch the comet which will be to the left (south) of the crescent moon.

"Bring your binoculars," Doerrie added. "We will have telescopes to be able to see the main body clearer, but to see the tail, binoculars are the best tool."

If the weather is too cloudy for observation on Tuesday, the event will be moved to Wednesday at the same time in the same location. Any questions regarding the comet party can be directed to Bobette Doerrie at