Stargazers to be offered a good glimpse of comet Monday
Kim McGuire / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Email this story to a friend
ST. LOUIS — A green-tinged comet is now buzzing by Earth, and the best chance to see this space oddball might be Monday night.
Comet Lulin, first discovered by a Chinese teenager just over a year ago, is making its possibly first and last flyby of Earth this month, traveling from the farthest edges of the solar system about 18 trillion miles away.
Stargazers with binoculars or a telescope could get a pretty good glimpse of the frozen ball of ice and dust hurtling across the night sky. To the naked eye, however, Lulin might only look like a dim, fuzzy star.
“While comets are notoriously unpredictable, it is estimated that it should be bright enough to be seen by the naked eye after mid-month, if you are under a dark sky,” said Erika Gibb, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
“It is gradually getting higher in the sky, so that it will rise around midnight near Feb. 24," she said. "After that, it will continue along its path in the sky, getting fainter as it heads to the outer solar system.”
Lulin gets its green color from the gases that make up its atmosphere, namely diatomic carbon and cyanogen, a poisonous gas found in many comets.
Around midnight Monday night, the comet will be as close to Earth as it will ever get. But don’t worry, we won’t get grazed. Lulin will still be 38 million miles away.
To check out the comet, first find Saturn and then look south, or slightly southwest.