When Chi-Sheng Lin of Taiwan’s Institute of Astronomy captured three images on July 11, 2007 with something strange in them, it was first believed he’d picked up just another asteroid. But, by July 17 astronomers in Table Mountain Observatory, California were noticing a coma 2-3″ across, with a bright central core. That’s not an asteroid… That’s a comet! And now it’s a comet that’s doing something very strange…
By the end of 2008, Comet C/2007 N3 Lulin had steadily began to brighten and now is within easy reach of binoculars for all observers. How bright is it? At last estimate it is between magnitude 6 and 7. That means just a little too faint to be seen unaided, but bright enough to be spotted easily with just the slightest of visual aids. Our own Nancy A. did an article on this not long ago!
But there’s something going on with N3 Lulin, right now… Something very different. There’s a twist in the tail! Check this out…
While imaging N3 Lulin for UT Readers, Dr. Joe Brimacombe used a negative luminance frame to take a closer look at what’s going on and discovered something quite out of the ordinary. First off, you’ll notice an anti-tail – quite rare in itself – but if you take a look about halfway down the ion/dust tail, you’ll see a very definite twist in the structure. It it rotating? Exactly what’s causing it? Torsional stress? Is it possible that the kink in the tail is an instability resulting from currents flowing along the tail axis? Right now there’s absolutely no information available about what’s going on in the tail – because what you’re seeing is perhaps one of the most current pictures of the comet that can be found!
If you’re interested in viewing Comet C/2007 N3 Lulin for yourself and would like some help locating it, there’s a wonderful resource that’s easy to use. Just go to Chris Peet’s Heaven’s Above website and make use of the tools there. It will give you easy to follow charts and all you need is just a pair of binoculars to spot this comet for yourself. Don’t sit inside… Do it!
My sincere thanks to Dr. Joseph Brimacombe of Northern Galactic for not only his superb imaging – but his sublime sense of curiosity which caught this anomaly!