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A naked-eye comet to brighten our nights next month! January 9, 2009

Posted by dorigo in astronomy, news, science.
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Comet Lulin (C/2007 N3), discovered by a team of  Chinese and Taiwanese astronomers, is approaching the inner solar system these days. It is currently shining at 8th magnitude and it shows both a tail and an anti-tail, as the picture below (taken from the Spaceweather site) shows. Lulin is expected to reach 5th magnitude in early February, when it will be visible with the naked eye or, better, with a pair of binoculars.

As with any comet, magnitude forecasts are a tough call, but in the case of Lulin, they are even more uncertain because the hyperbolic path of the comet suggests that this will be its first approach to the inner solar system. Under such circumstances, the sun’s radiation pressure and gravitational force may cause it to brigthen significantly.

The site linked above provides ephemeris and sky maps. So take the dust off your best pair of lenses and get ready for a show!



1. Yatima - January 10, 2009

Hyperbolic? That would be pretty Big News wouldn’t it, as AFAIK no comet has ever come from the interstellar vastness to paid the Sun a visit.

dorigo - January 10, 2009

Hi Yatima,

well, that is what is held in the web site I linked. Check the java orbit visualizer here:

2. Otto Mann - January 10, 2009

I just hope it doesn’t hit Earth!

dorigo - January 10, 2009

Well, I hope it passes very, very near to us 🙂

3. Yatima - January 11, 2009

Hi Antonio,

Thanks for the link. There are indeed hyperbolic comets. Their eccentricity is generally small though (so they just might still be members of the solar system give or take a few perturbations and non-gravitational effects — outgassing). Very interesting. Here are the JPL database result:


4. dorigo - January 11, 2009

Hmmm Tommaso not Antonio. Cheers,

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