Stargazers to be offered a good glimpse of comet

February 23, 2009 By Kim McGuire

A green-tinged comet is now buzzing by Earth, and the best chance to see this space oddball might be Monday night.

Comet Lulin, first discovered by a Chinese teenager just over a year ago, is making its possibly first and last flyby of Earth this month, traveling from the farthest edges of the solar system about 18 trillion miles away.

Stargazers with binoculars or a telescope could get a pretty good glimpse of the frozen ball of ice and dust hurtling across the night sky. To the naked eye, however, Lulin might only look like a dim, fuzzy star.

"While comets are notoriously unpredictable, it is estimated that it should be bright enough to be seen by the naked eye after mid-month, if you are under a dark sky," said Erika Gibb, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "It is gradually getting higher in the sky, so that it will rise around midnight near Feb. 24. After that, it will continue along its path in the sky, getting fainter as it heads to the outer solar system."

Lulin gets its green color from the gases that make up its atmosphere, namely diatomic carbon and cyanogen, a poisonous gas found in many comets.

"When sun shines on these molecules, they glow," Gibb said. "Cyanogen glows green. I think it's important to mention that this gas doesn't pose a problem for us. When we went through the tail of Halley's comet, a lot of people worried they were going to die from poison gas."

A NASA satellite utilizing X-rays show the comet is quite active, shedding more than 800 gallons of water per second as it moves closer to the sun.

Lulin will fade out of view by mid-March when it moves to the dark depths of the outer solar system.

Around midnight Monday night, the comet will be as close to Earth as it will ever get. But don't worry, we won't get grazed. Lulin will still be 38 million miles away

To check out the comet, first find Saturn and then look south, or slightly southwest.

If you can't wait until then, check out some images captured by amateur astronomer Gregg Ruppel of St. Louis that are being widely circulated in astronomy circles. His Web site is located at:

More information: www.ruppel.darkhorizons.org/comet_lulin.htm

___

(c) 2009, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Visit the Post-Dispatch on the World Wide Web at www.stltoday.com/
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Explore further: Science on the surface of a comet

Related Stories

Science on the surface of a comet

July 31, 2015

Complex molecules that could be key building blocks of life, the daily rise and fall of temperature, and an assessment of the surface properties and internal structure of the comet are just some of the highlights of the first ...

Annual Perseid meteor shower promises a fine display

July 29, 2015

The annual Perseid meteor shower is one of the best and most reliable meteor showers of the year. It peaks every year around the 12th/13th August, and under ideal conditions produces a maximum frequency of meteors, or zenith ...

Finding Pluto—the hunt for Planet X

July 17, 2015

Our solar system's shadowy ninth (dwarf) planet was the subject of furious speculation and a frantic search for almost a century before it was finally discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. And remarkably, Pluto's reality ...

Catch a fine lunar planetary grouping this weekend

July 16, 2015

Phew! Our eyes and thoughts have been cast so far out into the outer reaches of the solar system following New Horizons and Pluto this week, that we're just now getting to the astronomical action going on in our own backyard.

Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina

June 18, 2015

Live in (or planning on visiting) the southern hemisphere soon? A first time visitor to the inner solar system is ready to put on the first of a two part act starting this month, as Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina breaks +10th ...

Recommended for you

Dense star clusters shown to be binary black hole factories

July 29, 2015

The coalescence of two black holes—a very violent and exotic event—is one of the most sought-after observations of modern astronomy. But, as these mergers emit no light of any kind, finding such elusive events has been ...

Image: Hubble sees a dying star's final moments

July 31, 2015

A dying star's final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star's demise is still quite ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Atomicat
1 / 5 (2) Feb 24, 2009
Dear Dude-thing that created this joint

Why are you being such a dick! Really man, Lulin is within two degrees of Saturn tonight and tonight only. So what do you do? You dump a bunch of clouds right on top of my province! I mean what gives? And I was really looking forwards to that show man, had backstage passes and everything!

Yours sincerely
A disappointed fan.

P.S. Sorry I called you a dick. Please don't like, do anything to me or anything ok?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.