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: Images of strange solar system visitor peel away some of the mystery

Related Stories

A guide to meteor showers – what to look out for and when

November 20, 2017

It has happened to most of us: walking home late at night under clear skies you catch a glimpse of something bright moving, often from the corner of your eye. You turn to see what it is but it's gone without a trace. And ...

Going green to the Red Planet

November 29, 2017

ESA's ground station in Western Australia routinely communicates with spacecraft at far-away places like Mars. Now, it's using sunlight to generate electricity, significantly reducing energy costs.

Small asteroid or comet 'visits' from beyond the solar system

October 26, 2017

A small, recently discovered asteroid - or perhaps a comet - appears to have originated from outside the solar system, coming from somewhere else in our galaxy. If so, it would be the first "interstellar object" to be observed ...

Recommended for you

No alien 'signals' from cigar-shaped asteroid: researchers

December 14, 2017

No alien signals have been detected from an interstellar, cigar-shaped space rock discovered travelling through our Solar System in October, researchers listening for evidence of extraterrestrial technology said Thursday.

Dawn of a galactic collision

December 14, 2017

A riot of colour and light dances through this peculiarly shaped galaxy, NGC 5256. Its smoke-like plumes are flung out in all directions and the bright core illuminates the chaotic regions of gas and dust swirling through ...

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.