The Sciences

INSANELY cool picture of Comet Lovejoy

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitDec 24, 2011 12:00 PM

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The pictures of Comet Lovejoy keep coming, each cooler than the one before. It's hard to imagine topping the ones from the Space Station, but then you don't have to imagine it when you can just look at this crazy amazing shot:

Holy Haleakala! [Click to stimulatedemissionate.] Well, actually, "Holy Paranal!" This picture, by Gabriel Brammer, was taken at the Very Large Telescope observatory on Cerro Paranal in the Atacama desert in Chile, and it's just stunning. The comet is obvious enough -- you can still see the two tails -- and the crescent Moon, somewhat overexposed, on the left. On the right is the VLT itself, firing a laser into the sky. The laser makes atoms high in the atmosphere glow, creating an artificial star that can be used to compensate for turbulence in the air, creating sharper images. I love how the Milky Way is splitting the sky. You can see the dark hole of the Coal Sack, a thick dust cloud that absorbs the star light from behind it, and the Southern Cross in the middle of the frame. The two bright stars just below that are Alpha and Beta Centauri, the former being the closest star system to our own. The southern hemisphere gets a better view of the galaxy than we northerners do, since the geometry of the Earth's tilt puts the center of the Milky Way higher up for them. I'm jealous enough just because of that, but to have this incredible comet visible too? Curse you antipodeans!

[UPDATE: The ESO has added a nice time lapse video to the mix, using Brammer's photos:

[embed width="610"]http://vimeo.com/34073825[/embed]

Sigh. So lovely.] If you're south of the Equator, the comet will be visible in the east before sunrise for a few more days at least. If you can, go take a look. Comets like this are extremely rare, and you may never get another chance like this again. Image credit: Gabriel Brammer/European Southern Observatory

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