Thursday, February 26, 2009

Is it Comet Lulin?

Comet Lulin was supposed to come closest to the Earth on 02/24/09 so I was outside at about 9:15 p.m. to have a look. Here's two pictures: the top is a picture of Saturn (brightest, center) and a nearby "star" at about 1 o'clock. Now have a look at the finder chart for this date, compliments of Sky & Telescope. It would appear that the "star" is exactly where Comet Lulin should be on that date.

I have some doubts, however. First, I wouldn't call the star "fuzzy" as I'd expect a comet to be and second, if I pull up a sky map for that date/time, I find a star in the constellation Leo (HP 55434) to be about where I see this one.
Comparatively, Saturn should be magnitude 0.92 and HP 55434 should be magnitude 4.05. Both points of light seem to be following this prediction.
Standing there in the cold night air, I also used binoculars to scan the area and found nothing out of the ordinary.
For photographers interested in the picture, I used a 15 second exposure at f/2.71. There was no magnification but the image is cropped from the entire scene.
So, as Comet Lulin passes back into space - never to return again - did I catch a glimpse or am I just looking at a very ordinary star? I would venture the latter. But as usual, it is the looking that is almost as satisfying as the finding.