Have you seen Comet Lulin?
Spend an evening with this 5th-magnitude "dirty snowball."
February 24, 2009
There's a comet in the evening sky, and it's making quite a splash with observers. I saw it through thin clouds the night of February 23 from my backyard near downtown Milwaukee, so I have great confidence that you can see it, too. Astronomers designated it C/2007 N3 (Lulin), but most people just call it Comet Lulin. Now and through the end of February, it's in the constellation Leo the Lion, which rises in full around 8 P.M. local time. Try to see it this week because after that the waxing Moon will spread more light through the evening sky each night.
Comet C/2007 N3 (Lulin) remains on track to be the brightest comet of the year. It should peak around 5th magnitude during the second half of February
Photo by Paolo Candy/Ci.A.O. Cimini Astronomical Observatory & Planetarium
Start looking for Comet Lulin around 9 P.M., which gives it a chance to rise above some of the thickest air. Looking at an astronomical object near the horizon introduces atmospheric distortion, which produces a defocused image, so let it rise a bit higher. To make finding the comet easy, use binoculars. If your observing site is really dark, try to see it with your naked eyes after you've ascertained its position through binoculars.
Last night, Comet Lulin was slightly below and to the right of Saturn. Because the comet is moving quickly, tonight it lies to Saturn's upper right. The easiest night to spot Comet Lulin will be February 27, when it will lie slightly less than 1° (only 2 Full Moon-widths) west-southwest of Regulus, Leo's brightest star.
To find Comet Lulin's exact location before you head outside, use StarDome, Astronomy.com's interactive star chart. For instructions, see my fellow Senior Editor Richard Talcott's blog about observing Comet Lulin in your night sky.
And if you manage to grab an image of Comet Lulin, be sure to share it with us by submitting it to our Online Reader Gallery.
Related blog and video: John Chumack captures Lulin