C/2014 Q1 (PanSTARRS): Next Naked-Eye Comet?

Comet PanSTARRS (C/2014 Q1) has been skirting the northern horizon since mid-June. Now it's ready to dip Down Under, where it may be visible with the naked eye in evening twilight.

Bright but hard to get

Comet PanSTARRS (C/2014 Q1) photographed under extreme conditions just 10° from the Sun 45 minutes after sunset from Austria on July 4, 2015, with a 10-inch telescope. On July 6th, it passed just 0.3 a.u. from the Sun. Here we see its strongly condensed coma and short tail.
Michael Jäger

I feel a bit sheepish touting this comet's horn for northern hemisphere skywatchers because it presents a great challenge for the brief time it may still be visible. But it's bright! Having just passed perihelion on July 6th, the comet's current magnitude is 4. We'd all spring into action if Comet PanSTARRS were well up at sundown. Unfortunately, it grazes the treetops and quickly vanishes below the horizon.

On the edge of night

Comet PanSTARRS (C/2014 Q1) hugs the horizon for northern hemisphere observers and will be a difficult catch the next few nights. This map shows the sky facing west from Minneapolis, Minnesota (45° north), one hour after sunset on July 9th (10 p.m. CDT). Stars shown to mag. +6. Although the map seems to show the comet's altitude peaking around the 16th, it will actually be below the horizon at that time because of the seasonal drift of the stars. Click for large version and also see the chart at the end of the article.
Chris Marriott's SkyMap software

For stargazers at latitude 40°–45° north, the comet never climbs higher than 1° to 3° above the northwestern horizon an hour after sunset and sets soon after. That's what I call cutting it close! Farther north it rises a titch higher, but the crazy-long twilights at higher latitudes will likely negate any altitude advantage. If you can find a sky that's haze-free down to the western horizon, you still have the remainder of this week to attempt C/2014 Q1.

There but barely

Thomas Lehmann cycled 5 kilometers from his hometown of Weimar to a small hillock to capture this fleeting view of Comet PanSTARRS in Gemini at dusk on July 6, 2015. He used a 300-mm f/4 telephoto lens.
Thomas Lehmann

Observers Down Under fair much better. Viewed from mid-southern latitudes, Comet PanSTARRS quickly climbs into the western winter sky, trekking from Cancer into Leo while passing Venus and Jupiter. By July 15th, it will stand some 7° high near the end of evening twilight and likely be visible with the naked eye from dark skies.

Q1 in good company come southern winter

Comet C/2014 Q1 PanSTARRS is now best seen from the southern hemisphere (Alice Springs, Australia here) during the winter months of July and August. On July 18th (shown here) the comet joins the crescent Moon, Jupiter, and Venus for a scenic gathering in the west at nightfall. Stars to magnitude 6. Click for large version.
Chris Marriott's SkyMap software

Discovered in August 2014 by the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) survey atop Haleakala on Maui, expectations ran high that C/2014 Q1 might swell to magnitude 3 with a long, bright tail during July and early August around the time of perihelion. Brightness-wise, that wasn't far off the mark, but it's unclear just how long a tail we might see. The coming weeks will tell.

July-August binocular comet

Comet PanSTARRS (C/2014 Q1) was first seen around magnitude 11.5 by Southern Hemisphere observers in mid-spring. Before moving into the northern sky, it glowed around magnitude 10. It's presently 4th magnitude and expected to fade over the coming weeks as it becomes well-placed again for southern observers.
Seiichi Yoshida

On July 18th, watch for the thin crescent Moon and comet to pair up some 2° apart. According to Seiichi Yoshida, who maintains the excellent Weekly Information About Bright Comets site, C/2014 Q1 could do magnitude 5.5 or a bit better on that date. Together they should make a wonderful sight in binoculars and a pretty composition for the camera. The comet comes closest to Earth a day later at 109.7 million miles (176.6 million km).

Roller-coaster ride south

The two previous maps give you an idea of the comet's position in relation to the western horizon. Use this map to follow C/2014 Q1's progress through the end of August. Dates are shown for 0h Universal Time (UT). Click for a full-sized version.
Sky & Telescope

A handful of dedicated comet watchers spied Comet PanSTARRS as it transitioned from the southern sky to the northern in mid-June low in morning twilight. Alan Hale (co-discoverer of Comet Hale-Bopp) caught it on June 14th at 8th magnitude with a strongly-condensed coma.

Once this visitor moves on, it'll be slim pickings for bright comets for northern observers until Comet Catalina (C/2013 US10) leaps into the morning sky in mid-November. In the meantime, we can stock up on hand warmers and winter clothing.