FLORENCE, S.C. – The Francis Marion University observatory will hold a public viewing session Saturday (March 23) from 7 to 10 p.m. to view the Comet Ikeya-Zhang and several other heavenly bodies.
The session is open to the public free of charge. The comet will only be visible between 7:15 and 8 p.m. Other objects to be viewed include Jupiter, Saturn, the moon, globular cluster M3, and binary star Gamma Leonis.
The comet was discovered on Feb. 1 by Kaoru Ikeya of Shizuoka prefecture in Japan and Daqing Zhang in China’s Henan province. According to one publication, the comet not only seems to have a bright future but possibly a most interesting past. Three weeks after it was spotted, it was concluded that this is a likely return of a comet that appeared in 1661.
Comet Ikeya-Zhang will be difficult to locate low in the western evening sky after sunset in mid-March, but the comet is now visible to the naked eye. During the first week of April, the comet skirts north of the sun and enters the morning sky. Skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere will likely get their best views in late April, when the comet makes a slow trek from Cassiopeia into Cepheus and then Draco.
The loosely structured viewing program allows visitors to come and go as they please. If weather conditions block viewing, the session will be canceled. The public may call 843-661-1355 for recorded information about the prospect of a clear sky to allow the event to be held.
The FMU observatory is located beyond the outfield fence of the FMU Softball Field, south of the Smith University Center. Visitors can park in Lot D at the southern end of the campus and follow the walkway to the observatory.
Persons requiring special assistance to visit the observatory, or seeking more information, may call 843-661-1441. The observatory webpage is located at http://astro.fmarion.edu/observe/