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.
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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