Friday, January 16, 2009

Comet Lulin

I've heard reports of a comet that is brightening a little more than expected. Realize that a "bright" comet is not necessarily easy to see in the sky - this one is currently barely a binocular object from Tucson, but should attain naked eye visibility in a month or so from a dark sky. It will not be bright with a long tail like Comets Hyakutake or Hale-Bopp, but it will be visible all night as it appears exactly opposite the sun the end of February.

Comet Lulin (C/2007N3) was discovered in July of 2007 by Lin Chisheng as part of the Lulin Sky Survey. It was closest to the sun just a day or two ago, but it will slowly come closer to the earth, being closest to us on 24 February when it will be 36 million miles from us.

I left my warm bed this morning in an attempt to spot it in binoculars and get a photo. It is a morning object above the "claws" of Scorpius. There was a bright moon only 40 degrees away, and the sky glow of town make it hard to spot, but it was visible via "averted imagination" with binoculars. It showed up pretty easily in this photo taken with the Canon XSi. This is a stack of 10 - 30 second exposures with a 50mm lens at F/2.8. Still pretty small, but it will get brighter, and rise earlier in the next month.

Interestingly, it's orbital inclination is nearly 180 degrees, so will always appear near the ecliptic. Since comets sometimes show "anti-tails" as we cross the orbital plane, it already shows similar effects since we will be living in it's orbital plane as it brightens. Check out the photo gallery and finder charts at Spaceweather.Com's Lulin section.
Also be sure to check out our more recent posts from February 3rd, and from February 25th.

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