Avid skygazers are all set to get a cosmic treat in the form of a ‘green’ comet, which is fast approaching Earth, and would be visible to the naked eye on February 24.
Comet Lulin will streak by the earth within 38 million miles – 160 times farther than the moon -and is expected to be visible to the naked eye.
Discovered only a year ago, the comet gains its green colour from poisonous cyanogen and diatomic carbon gases in its atmosphere.
This will be the comet's first visit to the Earth’s inner solar system - and will enable the team from the University of Leicester to gain valuable insights into the comet.
Scientists are using NASA’s Swift satellite to monitor Comet Lulin as it closes on Earth. The spacecraft has recorded simultaneous ultraviolet and X-ray images of a comet.
“Swift is the ideal spacecraft with which to observe this comet,” said Jenny Carter, a scientist working with Dr Andrew Read at the University of Leicester, UK.
“We alerted the Swift team that the comet might be visible, and they quickly responded to take images using both the X-ray (XRT) and Ultraviolet/Optical Telescopes (UVOT) on-board,” said Dr Read.
According to Dr Julian Osborne, leader of the Swift project at Leicester, “The wonderful ease of scheduling of Swift and its joint UV and X-ray capability make Swift the observatory of choice for observations like these.” “It is important to carry out these observations as they give us clues about the origin of comets and the solar system,” Carter added.
Comet Lulin, which is formally known as C/2007 N3, was discovered last year by astronomers at Taiwan’s Lulin Observatory. On January 28, Swift trained its Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope and X-Ray Telescope on Comet Lulin.
“The comet is quite active,” said team member Dennis Bodewits, a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA.
“The UVOT data show that Lulin was shedding nearly 800 gallons of water each second,” he added. “We are looking forward to future observations of Comet Lulin, when we hope to get better X-ray data to help us determine its makeup,” said Carter.
“They will allow us to build up a more complete 3-D picture of the comet during its flight through the solar system,” he added.