Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Comet Lulin Looky-Loo

The Griffith Observatory this week has its telescopes trained on Comet Lulin, which its the closest it will get toward Earth -- at least, until 15 million years from now. The Observatory writes:

This week, Comet Lulin (c/2007 N3) reaches maximum brightness and should be visible with a telescope or binoculars. The comet made its closest approach to Earth on February 23, when it was a little over 38 million miles away, slightly farther away than Mars gets when it approaches closest to Earth. Comet Lulin takes perhaps 15 million years to complete a single orbit. We shall never again have the opportunity to see this cosmic interloper.

Griffith Observatory's telescopes will be targeted on Comet Lulin every clear evening throughout the last week of February. Telescope viewing begins at 7:00 p.m. In addition, Griffith Observatory's new planetarium program, First Light: The Telescope Changed Everything, shows Comet Lulin in the night sky in evening performances at 7:45 p.m. in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium. Tickets go on sale at 7:00 p.m. on weekdays and at 6:00 p.m. on weekends.

Through binoculars, Comet Lulin looks like a small, fuzzy star with a faint green tint. In wilderness areas free of city light, the comet can be seen with the unaided eye as a small cloud (half the diameter of the moon). In binoculars, an "anti-tail" of dust can be seen to the comet’s left. Photographs also show an ion tail made of glowing plasma to the comet’s right.

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