Feeds

Comet Lulin poses for NASA's Swift

Faint 'fuzzball' visible over next couple of days

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

Comet Lulin will over the next couple of nights be visible to the naked eye as it approaches to within 38m miles of Earth, although sky gazers shouldn't expect to see more than a "fuzzball".

NASA's Swift Gamma-ray Explorer satellite has been keeping an eye on the object, discovered in 2007 by Ye Quanzhi and Lin Chi-Sheng from Taiwan's Lulin Observatory, as it creeps across the heavens. Here's the comet passing through the constellation Libra - a composite image of Swift data and a Digital Sky Survey image of the star field background:

Comet Lulin in a composite Swift/Digital Sky Survey image

Lulin is unusual in that it orbits the Sun in a clockwise direction - as opposed to the anti-clockwise path followed by all the solar system's planets and most other bodies. As it prepares for its closest encounter with the Sun, it's sheddding "nearly 800 gallons of water each second" - or enough to "fill an Olympic-size swimming pool in less than 15 minutes", as NASA correctly quantifies it.

This revelation came from Swift's Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) which "can't see water directly" but is able to pick up hydroxyl (OH) molecules which, along with hydrogen atoms, are produced by the Sun's ultraviolet action on the water. In Lulin's case, the satellite detected a hydroxyl cloud "spanning nearly 250,000 miles, or slightly greater than the distance between Earth and the moon".

For those of you hoping to cop an eyeful of Lulin, the Telegraph explains that "for most locations in the Northern Hemisphere, Lulin will be easiest to spot after midnight, when it is high in the sky".

However, Joe Rao, of SPACE.com told the paper: "For those not-so-seasoned folks, I would advise them not to expect anything awe-inspiring. Visually to the naked eye in a dark sky, Lulin looks like a dim, fuzzy 'star' and in a small telescope it appears like a fuzzball... somewhat brighter and more concentrated near the centre and more diffuse around the edges. As comets go, it's nice, but casual skywatchers are more likely to say, 'That's it?' as opposed to more experienced observers who might actually utter, 'Oh, wow'."

There's more on the Swift observations of Lulin, including additional data from its X-Ray Telescope here. ®

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Microsoft's anti-bug breakthrough: Wire devs to BRAIN SCANNERS
Clippy: It looks your hands are shaking, are you sure you want to commit this code?
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.