Friday, February 6, 2009

Comet Lulin Coming

Newly discovered comet Lulin is going to be more visible in the nightime skies soon.  Cloest approach will be on February 24th and the nights up to and afterwards.  It will appear more like a dim, fuzzy star according to the article on

The comet was discovered by Chi Sheng Lin using a 16-inch telescope at the Lulin Obervatory at Nantou, Taiwn on July 11, 2007.  But 19-year old student Quanzhi Ye at Sun Yat-sen University in Mainland China who reconized the new object to be a comet.  It was part of the Lulin Ky Survey project to explore the various populations of small bodies in our solar  system.  Lulin comet, was formally known to astronomers as Comet C/2007 N3.

According to Brian Marsden of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Comet Lulin is in a parabola orbit.  It has passed through the perihelion point in its orbit around the sun on January 10, 2009, 113 million miles from the sun.  It is now outward bound from the sun, closing on Earth with a minimum of 38 million miles by February 24, 2009.  Comet Lulin also has a low inclination of just 1.6 degrees from the solar ecliptic. 

The comet is located in the constellation Libra and will appear to move on a northwest trajectoy, crossing over into the constellation of Virgo on Feb. 11 and passing 3 degrees north of the 1-st magnitude star Spica in Virgo on February 16. reporter Joe Rao, gave a example of how to determine 10-degrees of width by using your clenched fist held out at arms length.  

Comets are visible because solar radiation releases gas and dust from the comet and thus that material is reflected in the sunlight, creating a cloudy head (also known as the coma) and either one or two tails.  Telescope observers might also be able to see a tiny spike which "leads" the comet, ot to put it another way, a real tiny tail oppsoite the main tail.

Ref. article on Space. com by Joe Rao ( )

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