Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Coment Lulin and Lovecraft

“Last night I had an interesting view of Peltier’s comet through the 12" telescope of Ladd Observatory (of Brown U) a mile north of here. I used to haunt this observatory 30 years ago—the director and his two assistants (all dead now—save one asst. now at Wesleyan U. in Middletown, Conn.) being infinitely tolerant of a pompous juvenile ass with grandiose astronomical ambitions! The present object showed a small disc with hazy, fan-like tail. I could have seen it through my own small telescope were the northern sky less cut off from the neighbourhood of 66. The first comet I ever observed was Borelli’s—in Aug. 1903. I saw Halley’s in 1910—but missed the bright one earlier in that year by being flat in bed with a hellish case of measles!” (to Robert H. Barlow, 23 July 1936)


Over the next three nights (about 25 February 2009), skywatchers can expect their best views yet of Comet Lulin, an odd, greenish backward-flying comet that's "zipping by Earth this month, as it takes its only trip toward the sun from the farthest edges of the solar system."

The Chicago Tribune reports that Comet Lulin makes its closest approach to Earth — some 38 million miles away — on Tuesday, Feb. 24.

To the naked eye, the comet looks like a fuzzy patch of hazy light against the night sky, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

What's additionally interesting about this comet is the story behind it. The Tribune article says that Lulin was discovered by a Chinese teenager two years ago.

Also remarkable is the fact that, while all the planets and most of the other objects in the solar system circle the sun counterclockwise, Lulin circles clockwise, the paper quotes NASA astronomer Stephen Edberg as saying. "It's essentially going backwards through the solar system," he said.

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