The Washington Post

Comet Pan-STARRS still pleasing, amazing photo and video

Comet Pan-STARRS made a subtle but scenic appearance in the Washington, D.C. skyline early in March.  It has since faded, but can still be seen in the night sky under the right circumstances.

Still want to see the comet? EarthSky offers this advice:

Use binoculars. Look to the northwest as soon as it gets dark, around 70 to 90 minutes after sunset. Better yet, perhaps, look for this comet in the northeast sky before dawn. Comet PANSTARRS is intrinsically fainter now as it heads back out to the outer solar system, but it now appears against a darker sky background – especially in the morning sky – making it easier to spot. Plus the moon is waning in the morning sky. If you haven’t caught Comet PANSTARRS yet, try now!

It turns out Pan-STARRS is currently in the same section of the sky as the Andromeda Galaxy.  The pairing made for quite a spectacle in Tänndalen, Sweden Wednesday where amateur astronomer P-M Hedén spied the conjunction. He posted his account on and submitted the photo below.

“Wow, what a night almost unreal!,” Hedén wrote. “Such a beautiful Milkyway with comet Pan-Starrs and M31 [the Andromeda Galaxy) beside each other, really easy to see with the naked eye.”

Comet Pan-STARRS and the Andromeda Galaxy as seen from Tänndalen, Sweden on April 3. (P-M Hedén via

(Though Hedén’s sighting with the naked eye was possible in relatively light pollution-free Sweden, a timed camera exposure, binoculars or telescope would likely be needed to spot the comet in the Washington, D.C. region.)

While Pan-STARRS is presently teamed up with the Andromeda Galaxy, a few weeks ago, it was joined by the northern lights in a spectacular dance over Norway.  Here’s the amazing video (the northern lights intercepts the comet between 15 and 20 seconds into the video), shot and produced by veteran astrophotographer Babak Tafreshi   (hat tip: National Geographic):

Comet and the Northern Lights from Babak Tafreshi on Vimeo.

The above video was recorded March 20.  That time period was an active one for auroras.  Check out this photo from Capital Weather Gang reader David Policansky taken on March 16 from Fairbanks, Alaska (who lamented not having a tripod to steady the image):

Northern lights as seen in Fairbanks, Alaska March 16 (David Policansky)
Northern lights as seen in Fairbanks, Alaska March 16 (David Policansky)



Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
Show Comments
Most Read

Heat Tracker

90-degree days year-to-date
Yearly Average
Record Most
67 (1980,2010)
Record Fewest
7 (1886,1905)
Last Year

At a Glance


61° /78°
Drop 60%


56° /70°


50° /64°


52° /68°


49° /60°


42° /59°
National Airport

Right Now

D.C. Area Almanac

Avg. High
Avg. Low
Rec. High
Rec. Low
Next Story
Jason Samenow · April 4, 2013

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.