Posted by: T. Boyd | January 22, 2009

Seeing Comet Lulin – “When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7).

Comet Lulin

Comet Lulin - photo from another site

I saw it!  Wow!   Hard to see!  Enough exclamations.  Sorry.  I woke up early this morning, Jan. 22, thinking about that clear sky outside, and tried to go back to sleep.  But how could I sleep, when I knew the chance to see this not-so-famous Comet Lulin would not come often.  We have lousy viewing weather in this part of the country, especially when it is a good temperature to go outside – the warmer it is, the more likely a cloudy sky.

So I left the warm bed about 4:15 a.m., groped around in the dark for my long johns, and flannel shirt, stumbled into the bathroom and shined a penlight at the outdoor thermometer – 18 degrees!  Oh well.  “Remember that news article in which I promised to try to see this faint object,” I thought to myself.

Using a red led flashlight to protect my night vision, I looked at the sky chart printed from the internet showing where the comet should be on this date, grabbed the binoculars, and wandered out onto the street where I thought I could find a clear sky in that direction.  My yard is almost useless for this with 28 pine trees, 60 feet high, on a one acre lot, giving great shade in summer, but not good for sky watching.

I sat down in a lawn chair which I took with me and starting scanning the sky where I thought the chart pointed.  No luck, just stars doing their silent singing,  I searched and searched with the binoculars, systematically covering the whole region.  Still no fuzzy object which could be the comet.

Oh, look there!   Leo has an extra star – ah ha!  It is slightly reddish. Must be Mars.  My grandson will want to see that.  He said so last night.  Check the internet at SkyAndTelescope.com.  No! It is not Mars; it is Saturn, my favorite planet.  Wish I had known that while I was still out there, but then I might have given up on finding the comet.

I went back inside and studied the chart some more and then went back out, setting up the 8 inch diameter telescope which has an easy-to-use finder scope – just the ticket for pointing the scope in the correct region of the sky.  Even that took some practice to finally line up with an imaginary spot between two stars, one in Libra and the other in Scorpius.

I gazed through the eyepiece as I slowly moved the scope around the area.  And there it was!  A very dim fuzzy spot – one of those sights for which you have to look slightly to the side to verify it is really there.  If you look directly at it, it almost disappears.  How in the world did someone spot it in July 2007 when it was first discovered?

I checked my cell phone for the time: 5:50 a.m., so that is not too bad.  Lots of folks are up at that time in the morning.  Who could I call to come share the excitement?  Couldn’t think of anyone, so I went inside, made a cup of tea, and sat down to write this.

If you live nearby and want to see it, write an e-mail note to me at BrightMysteries@verizon.net, assuming you could come to my house by 6 a.m.  I live about a mile from downtown Bowling Green, VA.  Comet Lulin will be visible for several weeks, reaching its peak brightness mid February.  However the moon will probably interfere seeing Lulin from about Feb. 10 till Feb. 20 or so.

Boyd

(This article copyrighted 2009 by Caroline Progress and Lakeway Publishers, Inc., written by myself and used by permission)


Responses

  1. Feb 5, 2009, 5:30 A.M. EST, 19 deg. F., clear, moonless skies.

    I saw Lulin again this morning – a little brighter, and right where S&T showed it to be ( http://media.skyandtelescope.com/documents/Comet_Lulin_Jan1.pdf ) .

    Also saw 2 meteors flying east from somewhere near Corona Borealis.


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