We had a special visitor from space on Tuesday night, Feb 24th.
Spotted in 2007 by a student at China's Sun Yat-Sen University, "Lulin" is a green-colored two-tailed comet that made its closest approach to Earth (38million miles) on Tuesday night. Because the student used data provided by the Lulin Observatory in Taiwan, the Chinese are calling it The Comet Of Cooperation.
What else happened Tuesday Night? Oh yeah, President Obama addressed the Congress, Supreme Court Justices, Joint Chiefs of Staff and We the People. It was a pretty impressive speech. ... but I doubt Lulin traveled all that way to hear a speech.
Maybe Lulin swung in from the far outer reaches of our solar system just to have a closer look at us? We might look pretty strange from her perspective. I wonder if she was impressed that our warm little blue planet is getting warmer every year now. I wonder if she noticed the missing chunks of protective ozone and oceanic dead zones. Did she associate the dominant primate species with that odd assortment of space junk orbiting our orb? Could she sense the Singularity rumored to live in Earth's core? Did we seem terribly beautiful or beautifully terrible?
[Nat Geo photo of Comet Lulin as it passed overhead on Tuesday, framed by trees in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park]
Some Comet Facts: Scientists think Lulin is on its first pass by our sun and don't expect it to ever come back our way, which makes it a very rare visitor indeed. New comets still have the ices they were born with. Once a comet has been around the sun a few times (such as Halley's), it has lost much of its original ice. A pristine comet like Lulin is still full of ices that have been largely unchanged since the solar system formed some 4.5 billion years ago.
As she exits our neighborhood of space on her route back towards her cold dark home, Lulin will be much thinner, having dropped about 800-gallons of melted ice per second as she swung by our sun. Sounds like a weight loss program I might be interested in!
ps, click here for info on seeing Lulin yourself over the next few nights. Or here is just one of many pages of Lulin photos people are submitting from all over the world. Here is an easy vid of how to find it; all you need is a clear sky and good pair of binoculars.