Comet Lulin coming soon to skies near you

Still struggling to find time to squeeze out a blog post or two. I hope to be able to take the time on Feb. 24 to go outside and see the newly discovered Comet Lulin. If you’re lucky (maybe out in the desert with no city lights) you might be able to see it with the naked eyes, but it should be visible with binoculars and telescope.

This comet is interesting since it has an unusual parabolic orbit. From the link:

Brian Marsden of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory has calculated that Comet Lulin passed through the perihelion point of its orbit (its closest approach to the sun) on Jan. 10, 113 million miles (182 million kilometers) from the sun. However, while the comet is now receding from the sun, its distance from the Earth is decreasing, with a minimum of 38 million miles (61 million kilometers) on Feb. 24.

For this reason, the comet should be at its brightest during the last week of February; then it will fade fast by mid-March.

The orbit of Comet Lulin is very nearly a parabola, according to Marsden. It is also rather unusual since it is moving through space in a direction opposite to that of the planets at a very low inclination of just 1.6-degrees from the ecliptic. As such, because it is moving opposite to the motion of our Earth, the comet will appear to track rather quickly against the background stars as one observes the object from one night to the next.

I found a quick chart tracking Lulin at Flickr. It shows that on Feb. 24 it should be near Saturn in the southern sky. So, if you have a telescope, it will be an excellent opportunity to see both the comet and Saturn’s rings (they’ll look a little like ears on a disk in a halfway decent telescope).

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