Wed, Jan 07, 2009 - Page 4 News List

Astronomers say stargazers to experience comet treat


Star gazers were advised that the period between Saturday and late next month would be the best time to observe the comet Lulin — the first comet jointly discovered by astronomers across the Taiwan Strait.

Astronomers at the Taipei Astronomical Museum said the tail of Lulin would be most visible during that time as it moves closest to the Earth.

The museum said it took 28.5 million years for Lulin to revolve round the Sun on its own axis.

In other words, museum astronomers said, the last time the comet came to the inner part of the solar system, the ice caps of the North and South Poles had just formed, the globe’s highest mountain range, the Himalayas, had just appeared and Taiwan was still deep below the sea.

Lulin was initially described as an asteroidal object when found by Ye Quanzhi (葉泉志) at the Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China.

Three images were obtained by Lin Chi-sheng (林啟生) of the Graduate Institute of Astronomy, National Central University at Zhongli in Taiwan on July 11, 2007.

Lin acquired the images using the 41cm camera at the university’s Lulin Observatory in Nantou County.

The discovery of Comet Lulin (C/2227 N3) was part of the major achievements made by the Lulin Sky Survey project to explore the various populations of small bodies in the solar system, especially objects that might present a hazard to the Earth.

The museum said the comet steadily brightened during the last months of last year.

It was nearly magnitude 11.0 at the beginning of July, 10.5 at the beginning of August, 10.0 at the beginning of September and 9.5 at the beginning of October.

The comet is presently moving between the constellations Scorpio and Libra.

Lulin is expected to head towards Leo at an accelerating pace late next month, the museum said.

The comet will pass 0.41 Astronomical Units from earth and reach its closest distance to Earth on Feb. 24 — about 14.5 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.

One Astronomical Unit is the distance between Earth and the Sun.

The comet is expected to reach magnitude 6 next month and will be visible to the naked eye.

Lulin will be observable low in the sky in an east-southeast direction before dawn, the museum said.

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