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Newfound Comet Lulin to Grace Night Skies

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Author Topic: Newfound Comet Lulin to Grace Night Skies  (Read 79 times)
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« on: February 07, 2009, 12:00:32 pm »

Look for an Antitail

Comets are visible because radiation from the sun releases gas and dust from the comet. That material then shines with reflected sunlight, creating a cloudy head, or coma, and sometimes one or two tails.

Even when it's at its very brightest, naked-eye observers probably see Comet Lulin as resembling only a dim, fuzzy star.  In binoculars, or a small telescope the comet may resemble an apple on a stick; that is, the comet's diffuse head or coma should appear round and somewhat condensed toward its center, with perhaps a tinge of blue or green, while a narrow tail of gas extends out to the northwest. 

In addition, telescopic observers should also look for a "spike" of light, pointing in a direction opposite to the tail.  This strange effect, called an "antitail," is caused by a thin sheet of dust that is expelled by the comet but normally is visible for a brief interval when the Earth passes through the comet's orbital plane. 

But because Earth will remain in the comet's orbital plane through February and on into March, there will be an ongoing chance of catching a glimpse of the antitail as well.

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium.

He writes about astronomy for The New York Times and other publications, and he is
also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, New York.

Original Story: Newfound Comet Lulin to Grace Night Skies
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