All this month, the newly discovered (as of 2007) comet, Lulin, has been streaking towards its maiden rendezvous with our Earth, and tonight is the big night. Lulin will be at its closest (38 million miles/61 million km) to us, and at its brightest. It may still be difficult to see with the naked eye, but a small telescope, or even a good pair of binocs, like a 10x50, should do the trick. Of course, two more things are necessary: clear skies away from manmade light sources, and knowing where and when to look. But for those who can see it, it should be a real reward, even if all it looks like is a fuzzy ball. Those who have more eye power available may get to see Lulin’s unique twin tails. Here from an expert:
Comet Lulin is arriving from the far reaches of the solar system on a nearly parabolic orbit—"it's almost as if it comes from infinity and goes back out to infinity," he said. This means Lulin could be on its first pass by the sun, so the comet should still be encrusted in "fresh" ices preserved by the freezing environment of the outer solar system.
As the object is exposed to the sun's heat for the first time, those ices will vaporize, possibly causing the comet to brighten rapidly or even break apart.What's more, the comet's orbit is in nearly the same plane as Earth's but is traveling in the opposite direction. This causes Lulin to appear to move unusually fast and display a rare anti-tail—an optical effect that creates a secondary "tail" pointing toward the sun. (Mark Hammergren, Adler Planetarium, Chicago)
WHEN and WHERE The comet will be visible in the northern hemisphere, with decreasing brightness, the rest of this month and into early March, as it hurries on its journey, but obviously the best viewing is tonight and the next few nights.
The above star map (from NASA) shows comet Lulin in the predawn sky tonight, looking to the southwest, but perhaps the easiest viewing will be around midnight, when it will be pretty much right overhead. I’m going to try for a little later, when it should be out over the lake, with an unobstructed view (i.e. no trees!). Here’s another way to help orient yourself – find the last star in the handle of the Big Dipper. Follow it down and slightly to the left to the next bright star, Arcturus, in the constellation Boötes. Then swing your eye to the right and look for the bright planet Saturn at the edge of the constellation Leo. Good luck to us all, and we'd love to hear if you found it!
The Cloud Messenger (Meghadūta) is a lyric poem by the respected Indian poet, Kālidāsa. The poem centers around a yaksa in exile. Longing for his beloved, waiting for him on a Himalayan mountain, he asks a cloud to take a message to her. The sights he tells the cloud it will see on its way make up most of the poem.
The idea of recording observations appeals to me. I thought The Cloud Messenger was the perfect title for a blog about the journey that we all make as we move through our days.
I'm a baby boomer who grew up dancing in the streets of Detroit during the classic Motown years, lived beside the Rocky Mountains for many years, now retired and living (and writing full time) in S. Ontario. I have one blog for rock 'n' roll oldies, and one for nature, poetry and life along the Lake.