It is an unexpected clear night, and it is cold: 17 degrees (F). Between the temperature, recent snows, and being tired it did not make a lot of sense to either set up a telescope (in my situation*) or drive to the observatory to look for the green comet Lulin (C/2007 N3). I did want to see it, however, and it should be easy to spot since bright Saturn and Lulin would be very near each other in the sky.
Even with a relatively clear sky the light pollution of our suburban area is bad. Only the brightest stars and planets were visible this night: Venus was brilliant in the twilight and for a couple of hours after sunset, as it has been all winter. Now Saturn rises at a decent hour and tonight it was well above the southeastern horizon in the great constellation Leo and, due to its golden color, was easily found. Leo was difficult to make out so I'm glad I didn't depend upon it!
Standing in my winter coat and pajama bottoms –yes, it's 17 degrees– I aimed my 10 x 50 binoculars at Saturn. The brilliant dot floated in the visual field. I couldn't make out the planetary disk but nearby, and to Saturn's south, was a faint, diffuse, oblong cloud — Comet Lulin. Invisible here to the unaided eye, it's being estimated at between magnitude 5 and 6. No nucleus was visible and no color noticeable. That should not be surprising given less than ideal base sky conditions, light pollution, and the small-aperture binoculars. I took one last look at the semi-starry sky and gingerly walked the icy path back to the house.
Still, I saw the comet on the night when it is passing closest to Earth. And I got out under a "clear" sky with an optical instrument for the first time in months! It has been a long, cold, snowy, and cloudy winter and I'm hoping conditions improve soon. Our first public night for the year is set for March 7 when we'll be looking at Saturn — the rings will be edge-on this year. And maybe I'll get a better look at that little green fuzz-ball Lulin. You never know!
* I've only purchased equatorial, tripod-mounted refractors til now. For occasions like this, however, a nice Dobsonian-mounted reflector would be great as a grab-and-go telescope. Hmmm…. is there room left in my basement?
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