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Comet Pan-STARRS

This is an image of Comet Pan-STARRS captured from the Lake Murray Dam on March 13th, 2013. Pan-STARRS is one of two comets that will be visible to the naked eye this year. Named after the telescope which discovered it in 2011, Pan-STARRS is making its first trip around the sun and based on orbital calculations, it won’t return for another 106,000 years.

Comets are large chucks of ice and dust which originate in the Oort cloud of the outer solar system. When comets approach the sun, solar radiation and wind vaporize the ices which form an atmosphere, or coma, around the comet and produce its tail, which always points away from the sun. A secondary dust tail may also form and point in a different direction and curve along the comet’s orbit. (Image credit: Alex Mowery)

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