Comet Lulin

Catching Comet Lulin

Comet C/2007 N3 (Lulin) is currently putting on a good show in the night sky, having brightened as it makes its journey through the inner Solar System. Earlier this month Lulin had been fairly low down during the wee-small hours, for us UK astronomers anyway, but as the days have gone by it has slowly climbed higher — meaning it is now visible in the southern part of the sky during the late evening around midnight.

This past weekend I managed to observe and take a few pictures of the comet from a reasonably dark sky site. On Friday and Saturday night it was easily visible, against the background stars, as a slightly teardrop shaped grey smudge (with a hint of the dusty anti-tail) through a pair of 10×50 binoculars; during periods of good transparency I believe I glimpsed it with the naked eye too.

Tonight Comet Lulin appears close to Saturn in the sky and tomorrow it makes its close approach to Earth, at a distance of some 61 million km (38 million miles). On the 28th February it will be very close to the bright star Regulus in Leo. Interestingly, NASA observations made with the Swift spacecraft suggest that in late January Lulin was ejecting around 3000 litres of water every second! The Society for Popular Astronomy, here in the UK, have a webpage (scroll down to links for detailed charts) showing the location of the comet over the next few days. So if you are interested, don’t miss this opportunity to see a visitor from the outer Solar System as it gracefully passes us by.