A new comet enters our skies in February.
Comet Lulin (2007 N3) is speeding towards the Earth, at present. It will get closest to us on February 24th and be less than half the Earth-Sun distance away. Then it heads away again, out into our Solar System and by early April, Lulin will have already crossed the orbit of Mars.
The comet is called Lulin, after the observatory in Taiwan where the image of its approach was captured. It was actually discovered in 2007, by a Chinese meteorology student Quanzhi Ye.
The good news for amateur astronomers is, Comet Lulin should be easily observable with binoculars or a small telescope.
Here are some sky maps I’ve made using Stellarium software, for three particular dates in February (click each image, for a larger version).
They show where to look for Lulin, in the skies before dawn.
Between these specific dates, the comet will move between the positions marked, following a smooth path.
The first map shows Lulin before dawn on 6 Feb, next to the double star Zubenelgenubi in the constellation of Libra. This will be low in the South East.
By 16 February, the comet will be observable in the constellation of Virgo, near the bright star Spica.
The comet should appear noticably green.
The colour comes from gases gushing out from the nucleus of the comet, as it is heated by the Sun’s rays.
Because of the chemical composition of the gases, they will appear green, under the intense radiation from the Sun.
However, this is the first time Comet Lulin has come into the Solar System, so it’s not certain actually how it will behave. To find out how big and bright it gets in our skies, we shall have to wait and see!
Here is the third map.
By 24 February, Lulin should appear close to the planet Saturn.
This might make a particularly good astro imaging opportunity, although the rings of Saturn appear rather “edge-on” to us at present, so the great planet will not be arrayed in its full glory.
Nevertheless, I shall be trying for a nice image with the Canon/Skywatcher combination.
I hope these maps help you find Lulin in the sky, during February.
If you do manage to get a good view of Lulin on any day, please let me know by leaving a comment on this post.