Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Short Sharp Science

Death-defying comet lights up huge desert telescope

Andrew Purcell, online producer
BIGeso1153a.jpg(Image: Guillaume Blanchard/ESO)
On 22 December, Guillaume Blanchard of the European Southern Observatory captured two impressive objects in one shot: the recently-discovered comet Lovejoy and ESO's Very Large Telescope, which lies in the arid Atacama desert in Chile.
The comet was first discovered on 27 November by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy. It has been classified as a Kreutz sungrazer due to the close proximity with which it passes by our sun.
The comet was expected to break up two weeks ago when it passed within a mere 140,000 kilometres of the sun's surface. However, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory reported on 15 December that the comet had survived the close shave.
With its bright tail - millions of kilometres long and composed of dust particles that originated in the solar wind - the comet is expected to be visible from the southern hemisphere for at least the next month. After that, it won't be back for 314 years - and that's assuming it survives its parlous journey around the nether regions of our solar system.
For more on Lovejoy, check out a time-lapse video of the comet passing over the Atacama desert or marvel at these images taken by NASA astronaut Dan Burbank from the International Space Station.

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