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  • Rapt in Awe

    My Journey through the Astronomical Year

    Think of this as a "companion text" to this, the main web site. Not required reading, butI hope you'll find it interesting and helpful.

Comet Lulin an easy binocular object now (February – 2009)

I looked for Comet Lulin when I went out at 3:30 this morning and although I had forgotten to check it’s exact position, just knowing it was roughly between Saturn and Spica was enough. I swept the sky in that direction with my 12X36 binoculars and it popped right out. I haven’t tried for this comet before. It’s been visible for several weeks, but I knew it was now getting near its peak.

I must say I was a bit surprised by its size. From pictures I had seen I expected something smaller with maybe a hint of a tail. Instead what I saw reminded me of  Comet Holmes, though, of course, dimmer and smaller.  Holmes had a wonderful halo effect – strong core and significantly weaker, but distinct shell. (See my pictures here.) Lulin was more a blob – appearing in binoculars much as the globular cluster M5 does – only larger.  It had a definite nucleus, but the surrounding matter was brighter in relation to the nucleaus than was the case with Holmes.  I tried, after my eyes dark adapated, to see it with the naked eye. No luck. My guess is it is roughly magintude 5.5 which for an extended object is well below naked eye visibility for my skies – and my eyes.

But it’s nice in binoculars and real nice in small telescopes – and while I was looking at 3 am, it’s well placed in the evening sky by about 9 pm and will get better over the next week or two as it passes near Saturn and eventually the Behhive – M44.

For more details and a timetable see my earier post here.

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