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Comet Lulin is On the Way!

Comet Lulin on January 11, 2009.  Credit: Gregg Ruppel

Comet Lulin on January 11, 2009. Credit: Gregg Ruppel

A new comet is swinging around the sun, and soon it will be more visible to stargazers, perhaps even with the naked eye. Both professional and amateur astronomers have been tracking this unusual comet, named Comet Lulin. Thanks to amateur astronomer Gregg Ruppel, who lives in the St. Louis, Missouri area for sharing images he has acquired of Comet Lulin. Gregg took the image above on January 11, 2009. The most interesting characteristic of this comet is its orbit. Lulin is actually moving in the opposite direction as the planets, so its apparent velocity will be quite fast. Estimates are it will be moving about 5 degrees a day across the sky, so when viewed with a telescope or binoculars, you may be able to see the comet’s apparent motion against the background stars. This is quite unusual! Today, January 14, the comet is at perihelion, closest to the sun. As it moves to its closest approach to Earth on February 24, Lulin is expected to brighten to naked-eye visibility in rural areas, (at best about magnitude 5 or 6) and will be observable low in the sky in an east-southeast direction before dawn.

Comet Lulin on January 8, 2009.  Credit:  Gregg Ruppel

Comet Lulin on January 8, 2009. Credit: Gregg Ruppel

The comet will pass 0.41 Astronomical Units from earth at its closest distance to Earth, about 14.5 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. It has a parabolic trajectory, which means it may have never come this way before –this may be its first visit to the inner solar system

Lulin was jointly discovered by Asian astronomers in July of 2007. Quanzhi Ye from China first saw the comet on images obtained by Chi-Sheng Lin from Taiwan, at the Lu-lin Observatory.

The discovery of Comet Lulin (also known as C/2227 2007 N3) was part of the Lulin Sky Survey project to explore the various populations of small bodies in the solar system, especially objects that could be a hazard to the Earth.

It has both a tail and an anti-tail, visible in this image.

Lulin's Tails.  Credit:  Gregg Ruppel.

Lulin's Tails. Credit: Gregg Ruppel.

Thanks again to Gregg Ruppel for the great images of Comet Lulin. For more information about Lulin, see Gregg’s Astronomy Page, Quanzhi Ye’s page, Lu-lin Observatory, and the Visual Astronomy website.

Spaceweather.com also has a page of Lulin images. . And Aaron Slack has put together a page of links about Comet Lulin on his Caffeinated Astronomy blog. (Love the name of that blog!)

Of course, Lulin isn’t the pseudoscience theory of a 2012 comet.


Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • jill February 24, 2009, 12:18 PM

    excellent could not believe my eyes .

  • amanda February 24, 2009, 2:56 PM

    hahaha, aqui no brasil deu pra ver perfeitamente, ele estava bem próximo e as caudas bastante bonitas, quem não estava aqui no carnaval perdeu, porque foi brilho pra tudo que é lado, inclusive do nosso cometinha lulin aí hahahaha :*

  • Tim Gilliam February 24, 2009, 8:52 PM

    LULIN FOUND: It was difficult to locate until I used the Stellarium Star Seeker program (freeware). Once I identified Saturn – slightly above and to the right – Lulin. I photographed it with a 35mm digital camera and a 400mm lense. Not especially proud of the image, but am very happy I was able to see something we might NEVER see again. Thanks for this cool site!


  • vhbelvadi February 25, 2009, 1:18 AM
  • LiTo February 25, 2009, 10:27 AM

    Dicen las lenguas largas que esta hecho de queso verde… Sera verdad??

  • somebody from germany February 25, 2009, 3:12 PM

    WELCOME LULIN!!!!!!!!!
    THe first comet I’ll ever see lol, was too busy last times… hope there are no clouds =S

  • ken February 27, 2009, 6:06 AM

    Please give me the height of arsonic and is it heavier than ozone

  • Louie March 1, 2009, 8:02 PM

    Darn, can find it on the night sky here in puerto rico, Ive seen green meteors,freaky,but not a comet,I was looking forward to it ;-(

  • Anahnee Mousse March 13, 2009, 8:50 AM

    hey, i didn’t see it…can someone get it sent around again for me?

    i wanna see it…i gotta see it…i live to see it…plzz, plzzzzz, prettttttty plzzzzzzzzzzzzz!?

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