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Monday, January 12, 2009

Comet Lulin


There's a new comet on the way, and this one could get quite interesting! This comet's name is Comet Lulin, more formally known as Comet C/2007 N3. This potential naked eye comet could be a very interesting one since it follows an unusual orbit. Comet Lulin is actually moving in the opposite direction of the planets! It also occupies a very low-inclination orbit of about 1.6° from the ecliptic. On top of all this, the comet is in a parabolic trajectory, which means it may have never interacted with the planets and that this may be its first trip into the inner Solar system. As we will see below, this comet's strange orbit will make for some odd behavior.

When Can I See It?


Since Comet Lulin will be moving opposite the motion of the Earth, it will appear to approach us and move away especially fast. Beginning in February 2009, Comet Lulin will rise at about midnight local time, and will be about 6th or 7th magnitude. This won't be bright enough to go out and look at it with the naked eye, but any telescope or binoculars should allow you to see it.

By the middle of February 2009, Comet Lulin will be about 5th or 6th magnitude. By this time, the comet may possibly be visible to observers in "perfect" dark sky sites.

Closest Approach


Comet Lulin's closest approach will be on February 24th, 2009 at a distance of about 61 million kilometers. By now, Comet Lulin is predicted to be 5th magnitude, which means it could be visible to the naked eye in rural locations. The most interesting thing about closest approach, however, is the comet's ridiculously high apparent velocity. Comet Lulin will be speeding along at more than 5° per day! This means that in a telescope or binoculars, one will actually be able to see the comet's apparent motion against the background stars! This effect is a must-see, and does not present itself often.

A Note on Magnitude Estimates


Please note, however, that the magnitude estimates contained in this article are just that: estimates. They are meant to approximate the apparent brightness of this comet and may not be entirely accurate. If anything, however, this comet may actually be slightly brighter than predicted. Since it is theorized that this is Comet Lulin's first foray into the inner Solar system, it will be packed full of "fresh" ice to sublimate, and may suddenly go into outburst like Comet Holmes did. If it does, this will be one very interesting comet!

Click here for instructions on finding this comet!

For pictures of Comet Lulin, check here.

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Clear skies!

63 comments:

Anonymous said...

The most interesting fact about this comet to me is its orbit. How often do you get to follow a comet that follows an orbit opposite the way the planets move? I am eagerly awaiting the chance to actually see it move against the background stars in real time. The fact that it will appear near Saturn only adds to the interest. And don't forget that the minor planet Ceres won't be too far away on the celestial sphere either. Thank you very much for the article. Oh and by the way, I think Lulin's relative velocity to us at opposition will be something like 57 kilometers per second. Wow!

Anonymous said...

Oh please,
Anyone still pushing the old "dirty snowball
comet model" lost all credibility long ago.
Time to educate yourself on the true nature of
comets.

Sean Welton said...

Note that nowhere in this article do I state that this comet is a dirty snowball. I'm just trying to state in simple terms the fact that comets out-gas material to form their coma and tail when exposed to solar heating, and that a "fresh" comet of sorts would have more of said material. The dirty snowball model never did it for me anyways, seems a little too "ideal", if you will. While I may be no cometary expert, I certainly know enough and follow scientific progress (such as the Deep Impact mission) enough to know about the dirty snowball model.

Sean

January 14, 2009 at 8:55 PM

T. Boyd Moore said...

I saw Lulin this morning! Cold out there - 18 deg. in central VA, but beautiful seeing. It took a while, but finally found it with a 8" Dobsonian. Very dim, could not find it with 10x50 binoculars.

It was right where the map showed it to be - a map on the skyandtelescope.com last week - can't find it now. The comet was about 1/3 of the way along a straight line from Beta Scorpii to Alpha Librae.

I almost abandoned the search when I noticed Saturn in a good postion to observe in Leo.

Good blog. Thanks.

Boyd

HoseHead78 said...

The charts are located on this page, to the bottom left of the photo.
http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/home/35992534.html

Fantastic Comet though, need to plan a outting to view this. Saddly it is raining where I am at now. Southern California.

Anonymous said...

What time on the 24 can I see Lulin?

Sean Welton said...

Comet Lulin's closest approach will also be near its opposition, so it will rise about the same time the sun sets. Because of this, the Comet will be visible any time during the night. On the 24th, Comet Lulin will be below Leo, right next to Saturn. In the early to mid- night, it will be to the East and move West-ward throughout the night.

Clear skies,
Sean

February 12, 2009 at 5:33 PM

Anonymous said...

it's going to crash into another heavenly body and cause a huge explosion in outer space .
this sonic explosion will tilt the earth of it's axis.

book of rev.

the tail of the dragon hurled a third of the stars from the heavens onto the earth.

and the sky rolled back like a scroll

the heavens will be shaken

mountains and islands will be moved from their places.

the moon will become blood red.

Nostradamus:
their will be a catostophic cosmic event
it'll be as if the earth has lost it's gravitational pull. after this disaster there will be a spiritual awareness in the world

Psalms 104:
and God touched the tips of teh mountains and the mountains started to smoke.
the people took off their old garments and put on new garments (volcanos and a spiritual awakeing in the world)

Eric said...

As an interested observer but not having any real knowledge as to where I should look...can this comet be seen from Honolulu, HI.? If so, which direction in the sky should we be facing?

Eric
Hawaii

Sean Welton said...

The comet should be visible to observers anywhere. If you're observing in the early night, it will be to the East. Around midnight local time, it will be almost directly overhead.

Clear skies,
Sean

February 14, 2009 at 12:36 PM

Anonymous said...

As i live in the UK, am i still able to see this comet at night, and if so at what time.

Sean Welton said...

The time and direction to look for the comet will be the same almost anywhere in the world. You should be able to see the Comet assuming you don't live in a very bright city.

Clear skies,
Sean

February 17, 2009 at 4:30 PM

T. Boyd Moore said...

At 0900z (0430 EST) 17 Feb. 2009, found Comet Lulin near Spica in Virgo. The moon, in its last quarter, is still interfering, but should be better in 2-3 days, The chart in Sky and Telescope is accurate as far as I can tell. I thought I was seeing the comet with naked eye, and thought it was higher than the chart shows, but I think I was seeing Theta Virginis instead.

I was able to find it with 10×50 binoculars - easily seen. Brighter, of course, in the 8″ Dobsonian at 36x power. I didn’t notice the tail and antitail - I doubt I will see those, but will try next time.

Boyd

Morgan said...

Its right outside our house in western ny. so cool!!!!

Anonymous said...

Is Lulin gonna be closest to earth the night of the 24th or the night of the 23rd.

Sean Welton said...

Closest approach is during the night of Feb 24th.

Sean

February 19, 2009 at 8:13 PM

David L. said...

Just stepped outside in the bitter cold with binocs (8.5X44 Swift) and found it rather quickly near Porrima. Then grabbed a six-inch reflector and took a quick peek, and could have sworn I saw a tail, and maybe a second tail? But I didn't stay out long enough to get my eyes fully adjusted. BRRR..

Sean Welton said...

Yeah, depending on where you were, it was real cold today... In NE Ohio, where I am, the wind chill was 8*F!

Sean

February 20, 2009 at 1:04 AM

max. said...

Took my 11 year old son out and found Lunin with our 15 x 50 binoculars, after having a look at Saturn first and then some searching (but we are on the edge of the city). By the way at midnight it is a nice 20 deg C. here in Perth Western Australia :o)

max. and Sam

Sean Welton said...

20 C at night... Man that would be nice right about now! ;)

Sean

February 20, 2009 at 3:27 PM

Anonymous said...

I can't find the comet lulin. I just going to google it.

shortround said...

I didn't know this comet was already movie fodder.
http://fusedfilm.com/2009/02/comet-lulin-to-kill-us-all/

Anonymous said...

I can see the comet Lulin by using a binocular [10x50 (clear) or 7x35 (barely)] in the suburban San Jose, CA. It is between Zaniah and Zavijava of Virgo (12:30 AM PST, 2/21/2009). I think this comet is about 5th or 6th magnitude now.

Anonymous said...

Hi in layman terms if i am standing in my garden looking south which direction is the comet, i am not very good with magnitudes or constellations, just interested in having a look through binoculars, thankyou

Anonymous said...

You can make a map for yourself at www.fourmilab.ch/yoursky. Set a time in UTC that you might want to be out - for example, UTC is Hawaiian time + 10, or East Coast time + 5. Look for the comet just a little bit to the SE of Saturn, which is near Leo. I'm definitely going to be out tonight - hope the skies are clear!

Anonymous said...

i dont want to miss this but i need help i only recognise orion in the sky as i a complete novice so where do i look, i am in scotland and my garden looks south, helppp please thankyou

Sean Welton said...

Hi all,

To find the Comet during and near closest approach, use this finder chart from Sky & Telescope. If you can recognize Orion in the night sky, Leo will be to the West of Orion. If your yard faces South, that is great for astronomy. Look to the West and find the sickle-shaped asterism. This is the right side of Leo. Below and to the left, you will see Saturn, a very bright object, with a slight yellow hue. During closest approach, Comet Lulin will be directly beneath Saturn. In days before the approach on the 24th, the Comet will be more to the left, towards Virgo. I hope this helps, if you've got any questions, I'm going to try to make up another post tonight with more specific instructions.

Clear skies,
Sean

February 22, 2009 at 2:01 PM

Sean Welton said...

Sorry, I said to look West in the last comment. You should look EAST. Sorry for the typo...

Finder chart post is complete, check here for a finder chart to help find the comet!

Sean

February 22, 2009 at 10:20 PM

Anonymous said...

im in north carolina...at 10:40 pm is in the south skies or the east? i found saturn easy but having trouble findint it

Anonymous said...

Hi, Im also in scotland,near edinburgh but out in the east coast, im looking for a sickle shaped constellation but can only see something that looks like a frying pan,it has 7 stars, is this it?? sorry for being so ignorant but as much as i love looking at the stars i haven't a clue!! help please thanks
Diane x

Anonymous said...

its actually 11.30 here and freezing!!but not too cloudy :)

Davis said...

i saw it and i got one more question.. on the nite of the 24th will i be able to see the tail with 7x35 binoculars if not im going to get the best ones...what is the size of binoculars that has a perfect view of the tail

Sean Welton said...

Ability to see the tail would depend on local light pollution levels. Lower levels of light pollution would allow you to see it with smaller binoculars. Usually 10x50 binocs are the "standard" for astronomical use.

Sean

February 23, 2009 at 10:23 PM

Anonymous said...

going out right now to take a look! im no expert, but im hoping to atleast get some view. its perfectly clear here in north VA!
jenn

Anonymous said...

Was just out for the past few hours and found Saturn, but not Lulin, I don't think. I could dort of see something in the binocs, but will wait for tomorrow night and use Saturn as the absolute reference point - aim the camera, and hope to get it on there.

Anonymous said...

I dug out my ancient Edmund Astroscan 'scope to look for this comet. I also found the wide field 28 mm eye piece and the 2x barlow lens but I have no idea what magnification this would yield. I haven't used this stuff since the 70's.
I'm in central New Hampshire (USA) and just went out to look at 2 am EST.
I was able to find Lu-lin just where it's supposed to be. However due to some high thin clouds reflecting lights for nearby cities all I saw was a faint cotton ball of light, no discernable tail.
Wish I had another eye piece. I'll try again tomorrow if the weather cooperates.

GH

Anonymous said...

I use 10x50 (field 6.5 deg) binoculars to see this comet tonight (San Jose, CA; 12:00 AM, PST, 2/24/2009).

Here is the way I located comet Lulin using 10x50 binoculars tonight:

(1) look SE / SSE of the sky and find the Saturn (bright yellow spot).
(2) put the image of Saturn to the left-center of your viewing area.
(3) you should see the comet (a faint light ball - no tail from my binoculars) at the lower-right side of your viewing area.

It is no comparison to the view that Hale-Bopp (March 1997) shown; however, it is interesting to see this fuzzy light ball "travel" to different locations day by day simply by using 10x50 binoculars ($30-$100) and a finder chart from SkyandTelescope.com.

Anonymous said...

Viewing in central coastal NC, I found the comet with no problem using 10X50 binoculars. Last night at 9pm local it was a faint fuzzy ball just to the right of Saturn. It was absolutely amazing to see it moving over the 30 minutes I observed it. Early this morning (5:15) I made it outside to check the change of position. Again, amazing at how much it had moved. If it's clear on Friday, I'm getting my old 1000mm Bushnell S/C telescope out and entertaining a bunch of neighbor kids as it Lulin passes Regulus.

Anonymous said...

Yes the pictures and news of Lulin are great.A tinge of fear first enveloped me as I read about Lulin.This is because the Comet of Chatisement is expected in the near future.It will come close and one would see "two suns" then in an elliptical move it would disappear to come back and eventually plunge into the atlantic ocean starting the three days of darkness.It would be Gods destruction as in Sodom and Gomorrah for our sins of abortion/ Homosexuality/ sexual immorality etc etc.Lets wake up in prayer!

A peachy day
Joseph./ 24FEB 2009

Anonymous said...

well maybe its a good thing i didn't get a response from you guys because east coast scotland is very cloudy tonight, im so dissapointed :( i even spent most of my afternoon googling information on how best to recognise the stars. (humf)
Diane

Anonymous said...

Check the forecast and try again Diane.
Btw, it sounds as if you were looking at the Big Dipper, (I think you may know it as "the Plough" in Britain) Look at the "frying pan" as if it were right side up, Leo should be then next bright group of stars below that.
GH

Anonymous said...

i seen the comet this mornin it waz very dim i didnt even use my binoculers!

Anonymous said...

btw im sean todd

davis said...

i just bought a 20x60 scope w/ on a tripod ...how is my view going to be??

Sean Welton said...

A 20x60? That's typically how they rate binoculars.

February 24, 2009 at 7:27 PM

Davis said...

well it isnt binoculars...infact it looks just like a telescope without the cross hair scope and is about 1 foot in lenth...its like a portable telescope i took it out for a bit and it looks good not as i intisabated

Charles said...

Found Saturn in the scope, no sign of Lulin. Lot's of light noise from downtown Pittsburgh however.

Sean Welton said...

Yeah, light pollution, especially in a city as large as Pittsburgh, will make the comet hard to find. Even in Youngstown on the other side of the OH border, the light pollution is too much.

Sean

February 24, 2009 at 10:42 PM

Anonymous said...

what time will be best tonight? I have been told midnight until 3am

Anonymous said...

eastern time

Anonymous said...

I live in phoenix az and dont know the constellations how can i find it

Anonymous said...

Hi again,

I looked again tonight and with slightly better conditions and the same (primitive) equipment i was able to see Lu Lin with a very faint tail through my small scope.
It is not a naked eye object though.
For comparison, I dug out an old star chart and looking in the other direction, I was able to see the open cluster, M36 in the constellation Auriga with the naked eye. Magnitude 6.3. maybe the sky was a little bit darker in that direction.
I also saw Saturn though the scope and was just able to see it's rings and one moon which might have been Mimas acxcording to the chart I'm looking at, although I'm not sure if the chart shows things upside down, as it would be seen through a telescope.

GH

Anonymous above,

If I lived in Phoenix, I'd head down to the observatory.

http://www.lowell.edu/

Ashley Adum said...

After reading these comments, I am nearly about to put the tele back outside. 10pm now in California. Did see a great shooting star about two hours ago. It skipped before fading off. I may need to be happy to have seen Saturn's rings. A little sad, as Lulin has mustered a lot of fus. Happy star gazing!!

Anonymous said...

thanks for your response GH, unfortunatley it stayed cloudy all night here at edinburgh and it was very low.will i still be able to see it 2night?? the big dipper is right above my garden at 10pm so i should find it easier. lucky i live in a small village thats surrounded by fields so glare from sreet lights pose no problems.p.s when looking west i can see what appears to be flashing star,its green and red,is this a sattellite or space station?? just thought id ask :)
Diane

Sean Welton said...

The comet should be visible even into March, so keep looking!

Clear skies,
Sean

February 25, 2009 at 10:36 AM

Anonymous said...

from Manassas,Va. around 11:00, in eastern,and southern sky, with 10x50 binocular, I saw a red and green star, but not sure this was Lulin Feb 24,

Sean Welton said...

If it was in the East at 11:00 PM, it couldn't have been Lulin.

Sean

February 25, 2009 at 1:10 PM

Anonymous said...

Lulin was visible here in Jamaica, I saw it in the western sky, it was clearly visible to the naked eyes I never saw a tail but you could see it was moving.

Winsome

February 26,2009 8:10pm Kingston Jamaica

Anonymous said...

Correction: from Kingston Jamaica
winsome
the date of spotting was February 25,2009 and not
26

Anonymous said...

hi id like just a basic direction to look in,i dont know what the 5th magnitude etc is so low in the northern or eastern sky would be great.thanks wayne

Anonymous said...

is there a telescope on sale that allows you 2 see saturn's ring? or actually see the planet as it was like our moon's view...if so what size telescope is that?

Sean Welton said...

No telescope on Earth would let you see Saturn as if it were our own Moon. Almost any decent 'scope, however, will show you it's rings, and in a scope 6" or larger, Saturn really starts to get interesting!

Clear skies,
Sean

February 26, 2009 at 11:30 PM

Astronomy Sri Lanka said...

It was a good experience that we had observing Green Comet

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