DENVER (CBS4)– A comet that shines as brightly as the stars of the Big Dipper can be seen over the skies of Colorado this week.

After a long journey from the outer reaches of the solar system, the Comet Pan-STARRS is expected to whiz by about 100 million miles from Earth, skimming the orbit of Mercury.

Comet Pan-STARRS might send an amazing stream of gas and dust into the night sky, according to scientists with NASA and other observatories.

The best time to view the comet is 30 to 40 minutes after sunset. The view should be good as long as skies are clear.

Viewers should look to the Western skies and should be able to see the comet with the naked eye.

The comet comes from the Oort Cloud, a shell of icy bodies thought to surround the outer solar system. Interactions with passing stars, molecular clouds and gravity from the galaxy sometimes sends these distant bodies falling inward toward the sun. Comets from the Oort Cloud are like pristine time capsules from the solar system’s early life, packed with virgin icy material that has been untouched by the warmth and light of the sun.

Comet Pan-STARRS was discovered in June 2011 by the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System, or Pan-STARRS telescope, in Hawaii, which scans the sky for potentially dangerous asteroids and comets that could pose an impact threat to Earth. The cosmic snowball will make its nearest approach to Earth on March 5, when it will come be about 100 million miles away. On March 10, the comet makes its closest approach to the sun.

But astronomers say the best time to look for it might be at sunset March 12 and 13, when the comet will appear not far from the crescent moon.


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