BONN, Germany – Stargazers gearing up for this weekend’s close encounter with the comet Pan-STARRS may be able to get an even better view than they expected.
Eclipse Travel, a German travel company based in Bonn, will take 88 people to see the comet from a plane, flying 11 kilometers (36,000 feet) above the Earth.
Pan-STARRS is expected to have the longest visible tail length and span next Saturday, March 16, when the flight is taking place. Eclipse Travel claims the flight will give even better views of the comet than those on the ground.
The Bonn-based astronomical travel company has teamed up with charter agency Air Partner and Air Berlin to organize a Boeing 737-700 flight, AB1000, for its first comet observation trip.
The one-time flight will follow a zig-zag flight plan to give all passengers the best possible views. Flyers can reserve two adjoining seats or an entire row if they don’t want to share the window.
While stargazers on the ground may have to endure views through clouds and smog, at 11,000 meters in altitude the atmosphere is thinner and air is more transparent for a clearer view, says Eclipse’s website.
The comet, already visible in the Southern Hemisphere, is the first of two to be visible to the naked eye this year.
NASA scientists predict Pan-STARRS could rival the stars of the Big Dipper in brightness as it passes 100 million miles from Earth.
The comet could show a dazzling tail of gas and dust through the night sky. However, NASA scientists say the show could also be a bust if the comet crumbles under the heat and gravitational pull of the Sun.
Astronomers in Hawaii discovered Pan-STARRS in 2011.
Comet ISON is expected to pass by Earth in November 2013. It is expected to be one of the brightest comets ever seen and may even out-shine the moon.
Tickets are US$470-663 for the two-hour comet observation, available at Eclipse Travel. A Rhineland specialty buffet will be served before the flight takes off at 7:25 p.m.