Lulin and the Lion

“When you walk the dog and you have those binoculars, what if someone thinks you’re a Peeping Tom?” my wife asked. I hope they notice my binocs are pointing at the sky. I care less for Earthly vistas.

If you have binocs, or happen to have good eyesight in a rural location, this is the best week to take note of Comet Lulin, currently passing through the constellation of Leo the Lion, in the vicinity of the bright planet Saturn.

Check out this summary from Universe Today, including a sky map from the fine publication Sky and Telescope (left) to navigate you around Saturn and Regulus, the brightest star in Leo. Saturn and Regulus are easily visible in the southeastern, and from these, you should be able to spot Lulin in binoculars with ease. It will be fuzzy and elongated–a clear difference from stars or a planet.

Tomorrow evening, it should be halfway between Saturn and Regulus. Friday, it will have moved just about on top of the star. Why does it move so fast? Comets are usually in irregular, elongated orbits, swooping in close to the sun, moving faster than most planets do as they get near. Plus, Lulin will pass 38 million miles from us. Only the moon, Venus, and Mars pass closer to us than that.

Saturn is more than twenty times farther away than Comet Lulin. Regulus, in turn, is about 500 million times farther away than Saturn. Gives you a little perspective on the scope of the universe, doesn’t it. And from Earth to Regulus is less than one-tenth of one percent of the span of our galaxy.

If that’s too big to grasp, just gaze at the dusty little snowball with twin tails. That’s keeping it in the neighborhood.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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