Roughly 38 million miles from Earth and traveling at a relative velocity of 140,000 miles per hour, the speedy Comet C/2007 N3 Lulin has caught our imaginations in a big way during the beginning months of the International Year of Astronomy. Right now, Comet Lulin has already sped past the Sun, slipped by stately Saturn from our point of view and is on a parabolic trajectory heading out from our solar system. This means it will never come back…
It won’t be long before Comet Lulin becomes just another inter-stellar object… and even less time before the Moon light and poor position steals it from our view. Thanks to Joe Brimacombe, right now one of the most fascinating aspects of studying Comet Lulin as been watching its activity as it spews a hydroxyl/cyanogen gas cloud spanning over 250,000 miles across the starry background. It’s being fed by an out gassing rate of 800 gallons of “water” each second – that’s enough liquid to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in less than 15 minutes.
Yes, Comet Lulin has certainly had its fifteen minutes of fame… And since it’s not a periodic comet, it won’t be long until Lulin and all its mysteries are soon gone from view. Its strange orbital geometry with a small inclination, has put it nearly on the same plane as the our solar system for a short time – giving us a long-lived anti-tail appearance as the ion tail and dust tail fan out from either side of the Oort cloud visitor. Solar wind? Plasma? We could debate for far longer on what’s caused what we can see that Lulin is going to hang around for…
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Because it won’t be long until all that’s left is the view of Lulin’s cosmic “tail lights” as it speeds away.