19 February 2009

uh oh a comet is coming redux

comet lulin
photo credit jack newton

WASHINGTON (Feb. 18) - An odd, greenish backward-flying comet is zipping by Earth this month, as it takes its only trip toward the sun from the farthest edges of the solar system.

The comet is called Lulin, and there's a chance it can be seen with the naked eye — far from city lights, astronomers say. But you'll most likely need a telescope, or at least binoculars, to spot it.

The best opportunity is just before dawn one-third of the way up the southern sky. It should be near Saturn and two bright stars, Spica and Regula.

On Monday at 10:43 p.m. EST, it will be 38 million miles from Earth, the closest it will ever get, according to Donald Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near Earth Object program.

The story behind the comet is more intriguing than its appearance — the greenish tinge may be hard for many to discern. The color comes from a type of carbon and cyanogen, a poisonous gas.

Lulin was discovered by a Chinese teenager two years ago. It still has many of its original gases — gases that are usually stripped away as comets near the sun. Unlike most comets viewable from Earth, this one hasn't been this close to the sun before, Yeomans said. ~ read more
The Great Comet and the Death of Kings
The profound fears of royalty at the appearance of the comet continued well into the present era.

The third century Christian theologian Origen cites the comet as heralding a change in dynasties.

It was a common "belief that the comet of AD 336 had announced the death of the great emperor Constantine." In connection with the assassination of Julius Caesar, it was said, a comet had appeared in the sky.

On learning of a comet Nero was seized with fear, and chroniclers assure us that a comet preceded the death of the Emperor Macrinus in A.D. 218, and of Attila in A.D. 451.

According to Synesius, writing in the fourth century A.D., a comet means great disaster: "And whenever these comets appear, they are an evil portent, which the diviners and soothsayers appease.

They assuredly foretell public disasters, enslavements of nations, desolations of cities, deaths of kings." ~ read more