Town Creek Holds Comet Viewing Parties
Sky watchers may be in for a rare treat come early March when comet C/2011 L4, also known as Comet Pan-STARRS, will possibly become a naked-eye object in the evening sky.
Town Creek Indian Mound will host a week-long event "Seeing STARRS" from March 10-16 for this once-in-a-lifetime chance to view the comet before it sets in the evening.
Comet Pan-STARRS is so named for the telescope Pan-STARRS (Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System) in Hawaii that discovered it in June 2011. Astronomers use this massive 1.8 meter telescope to scan the heavens for Earth-approaching objects, both asteroids and comets, which might pose a danger to our planet.
In early March, the comet will pass about 100 million miles from Earth as it briefly dips inside the orbit of Mercury. Because this is Comet Pan-STARRS first visit to our solar system, it has never been tested by the fierce heat and gravitational pull of the sun. On March 10, the comet makes its closest approach to the sun.
"The gases trapped inside the comet could release and spew out as a beautiful, bright tail or the entire object could just fall apart," says Karen Bowles, historic interpreter at the site. "If all goes well, astronomers believe it could become a celestial object as bright as the stars of the Big Dipper."
Comet Pan-STARRS is not the only comet possibly making a great showing this year. In November, Comet ISON could shine as brightly as a full moon in broad daylight when it passes through the atmosphere of the sun.
"Seeing STARRS" will be from 6 to 8pm each evening and is free to the public. Participants can also gaze through the telescope and take in striking views of ancient craters that scar the surface of a waxing new moon. Registration is required. Contact the site at (910)439-6802 or firstname.lastname@example.org to register.
The mission of Town Creek is to interpret the history of the American Indians who once lived here. The visitor center features interpretive exhibits and audiovisual displays.
A national historic landmark, Town Creek Indian Mound State Historic Site is North Carolina's only state historic site dedicated to American Indian heritage. Tour groups are welcome and encouraged. The site is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 1-5 p.m. It is closed to the public Mondays and most major holidays.
The site is located at 509 Town Creek Mound Road, Mount Gilead. For more information on Town Creek, visit www.towncreekindianmound.com.
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