Thursday, February 19, 2009

comet Lulin

Photo by amateur astronomer Jack Newton from his backyard observatory in Arizona, taken from a 14-inch telescope.

A comet with quite the story.

It came from the outskirts of the solar system, 18 trillion miles away, and once it's made the journey around the sun, Lulin will gain enough speed to escape the solar system.

While all the planets and most of the other objects in the solar system circle the sun counterclockwise, Lulin circles clockwise. Thanks to an optical illusion, from Earth it appears as if the comet's tail is in the front as the comet approaches Earth and the sun. It still has many of its original gases -- gases that are usually stripped away as comets near the sun.

In 1996, a 7-year-old boy in China bent over the eyepiece of a small telescope and saw something that would change his life--a comet of flamboyant beauty, bright and puffy with an active tail. At first he thought he himself had discovered it, but no, he learned, two men named "Hale" and "Bopp" had beat him to it. Mastering his disappointment, young Quanzhi Ye resolved to find his own comet one day.

And one day, he did.

Fast forward to a summer afternoon in July 2007. Ye, now 19 years old and a student of meteorology at China's Sun Yat-sen University, bent over his desk to stare at a black-and-white star field. The photo was taken nights before by Taiwanese astronomer Chi Sheng Lin on "sky patrol" at the Lulin Observatory. Ye's finger moved from point to point--and stopped. One of the stars was not a star, it was a comet, and this time Ye saw it first.

from NASA

Best chance to see it is with binoculars or telescope, away from City lights, on Monday, before dawn in the southern sky. But, if you just look up, you never know what you may see.

more on this beauty! apod link 02.21.09


  1. That's a nice story. I'm glad you posted it.

  2. It makes my journey seem not quite so formidable.