Lulin comet to coffs

A GREEN comet. Sounds like something you'd read in a Superman comic, doesn't it? Well, it isn't science fiction - but it does have story-like start.

In 1996, a boy in China bent over the eyepiece of a small telescope and saw something that would change his life - a brilliantly lit comet called Hale Bopp, named after the two astronomers who found it.

Young Quanzhi Ye vowed to find his own comet one day, and as fate would have it, one day he did.

Fast forward to July 2007. Ye, now a 19-year-old university student, bent over his desk to stare at a black and white starfield photo taken a few nights earlier by astronomers at his local observatory.

Ye's finger moved from point to point on the photo and stopped. A chill ran down Ye's back he realised one of the stars was not a star, it was a comet, and this time he saw it first!

Comet Lulin, named after the observatory in Taiwan where the discovery photo was taken, is now approaching Earth. It's unusual, a green beauty that is just starting to make itself visible to the naked eye from Australia.

“Darker skies will show its greenish colour better so it's best to get away from the city lights if you can,” said Dave Reneke, news editor of Sky and Space magazine.

“No-one can say for sure how bright it'll be because this is Lulin's first visit to the inner solar system. Surprises are possible.”

So, set your alarm for 3am and grab a pair of binoculars and head outside. The comet can be seen now a few hours before sunrise, about a third of the way up the northern sky in the constellation Virgo. Closest approach to the earth will be on February 24.

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