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NASA - Astronomy Picture of the Day


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Today's image 21-11-2022:

The Butterfly Nebula from Hubble

 

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Explanation: Stars can make beautiful patterns as they age -- sometimes similar to flowers or insects. NGC 6302, the Butterfly Nebula, is a notable example. Though its gaseous wingspan covers over 3 light-years and its estimated surface temperature exceeds 200,000 degrees C, the aging central star of NGC 6302, the featured planetary nebula, has become exceptionally hot, shining brightly in visible and ultraviolet light but hidden from direct view by a dense torus of dust. This sharp close-up was recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope and is processed here to show off remarkable details of the complex planetary nebula, highlighting in particular light emitted by oxygen (shown as blue), hydrogen (green), and nitrogen (red). NGC 6302 lies about 3,500 light-years away in the arachnologically correct constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius). Planetary nebulas evolve from outer atmospheres of stars like our Sun, but usually fade in about 20,000 years.

Image Credit: NASA

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Today's image 22-11-2022:

A Double Star Cluster in Perseus

 

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Explanation: Few star clusters this close to each other. Visible to the unaided eye from dark sky areas, it was cataloged in 130 BC by Greek astronomer Hipparchus. Some 7,000 light-years away, this pair of open star clusters is also an easy binocular target, a striking starfield in the northern constellation of the mythical Greek hero Perseus. Now known as h and chi Persei, or NGC 869 (above right) and NGC 884, the clusters themselves are separated by only a few hundred light-years and contain stars much younger and hotter than the Sun. In addition to being physically close together, the clusters' ages based on their individual stars are similar - evidence that both clusters were likely a product of the same star-forming region.

Image Credit: Tommy Lease

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Today's image 23-11-2022:

Earthset from Orion

 

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Explanation: Eight billion people are about to disappear in this snapshot from space. Taken on November 21, the sixth day of the Artemis 1 mission, their home world is setting behind the Moon's bright edge as viewed by an external camera on the outbound Orion spacecraft. The Orion was headed for a powered flyby that took it to within 130 kilometers of the lunar surface. Velocity gained in the flyby maneuver will be used to reach a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon. That orbit is considered distant because it's another 92,000 kilometers beyond the Moon, and retrograde because the spacecraft will orbit in the opposite direction of the Moon's orbit around planet Earth. Orion will enter its distant retrograde orbit on Friday, November 25. Swinging around the Moon, Orion will reach a maximum distance (just over 400,000 kilometers) from Earth on Monday November 28 exceeding a record set by Apollo 13 for most distant spacecraft designed for human space exploration.

Image Credit: NASA

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Today's image 25-11-2022:

NGC 6744: Extragalactic Close-Up

 

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Explanation: Beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 6744 is nearly 175,000 light-years across. That's larger than the Milky Way. It lies some 30 million light-years distant in the southern constellation Pavo, with its galactic disk tilted towards our line of sight. This Hubble close-up of the nearby island universe spans about 24,000 light-years or so across NGC 6744's central region. The Hubble view combines visible light and ultraviolet image data. The giant galaxy's yellowish core is dominated by the visible light from old, cool stars. Beyond the core are star-forming regions and young star clusters scattered along the inner spiral arms. NGC 6744's young star clusters are bright at ultraviolet wavelengths, shown in blue and magenta hues. Spiky stars scattered around the frame are foreground stars and well within our own Milky Way.

Image Credit: NASA

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Today's image 26-11-2022:

Saturn at Night

 

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Explanation: Saturn is still bright in planet Earth's night skies. Telescopic views of the distant gas giant and its beautiful rings often make it a star at star parties. But this stunning view of Saturn's rings and night side just isn't possible from telescopes closer to the Sun than the outer planet. They can only bring Saturn's day into view. In fact, this image of Saturn's slender sunlit crescent with night's shadow cast across its broad and complex ring system was captured by the Cassini spacecraft. A robot spacecraft from planet Earth, Cassini called Saturn orbit home for 13 years before it was directed to dive into the atmosphere of the gas giant on September 15, 2017. This magnificent mosaic is composed of frames recorded by Cassini's wide-angle camera only two days before its grand final plunge. Saturn's night will not be seen again until another spaceship from Earth calls.

Image Credit: JPL-Caltech

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Today's image 27-11-2022:

Supernumerary Rainbows over New Jersey

 

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Explanation: Yes, but can your rainbow do this? After the remnants of Hurricane Florence passed over the Jersey Shore, New Jersey, USA in 2018, the Sun came out in one direction but something quite unusual appeared in the opposite direction: a hall of rainbows. Over the course of a next half hour, to the delight of the photographer and his daughter, vibrant supernumerary rainbows faded in and out, with at least five captured in this featured single shot. Supernumerary rainbows only form when falling water droplets are all nearly the same size and typically less than a millimeter across. Then, sunlight will not only reflect from inside the raindrops, but interfere, a wave phenomenon similar to ripples on a pond when a stone is thrown in. In fact, supernumerary rainbows can only be explained with waves, and their noted existence in the early 1800s was considered early evidence of light's wave nature.

Image Credit: John Entwistle

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Today's image 28-11-2022:

Leonid Meteors Through Orion

 

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Explanation: Where will the next meteor appear? Even during a meteor shower, it is practically impossible to know. Therefore, a good way to enjoy a meteor shower is to find a place where you can sit comfortably and monitor a great expanse of dark sky. And it may be satisfying to share this experience with a friend. The meteor shower depicted was the 2022 Leonids which peaked earlier this month, and the view is from Hainan, China looking out over the South China Sea. Meteor streaks captured over a few hours were isolated and added to a foreground image recorded earlier. From this place and time, Leonid meteors that trace back to the constellation of Leo were seen streaking across other constellations including Orion. The bright red planet Mars appears near the top of the image. Bonding over their love of astronomy, the two pictured meteor enthusiasts, shown celebrating their common birthday this month, are now married.

Image Credit: Luo Hongyang

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Today's image 29-11-2022:

The Gum Nebula Supernova Remnant

 

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Explanation: Because the Gum Nebula is the closest supernova remnant, it is actually hard to see. Spanning 40 degrees across the sky, the nebula appears so large and faint that it is easily lost in the din of a bright and complex background. The Gum Nebula is highlighted nicely in red emission toward the right of the featured wide-angle, single-image photograph taken in late May. Also visible in the frame are the Atacama Desert in Chile in the foreground, the Carina Nebula in the plane of our Milky Way galaxy running diagonally down from the upper left, and the neighboring Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) galaxy. The Gum Nebula is so close that we are much nearer the front edge than the back edge, each measuring 450 and 1500 light years respectively. The complicated nebula lies in the direction of the constellations of Puppis and Vela. Oddly, much remains unknown about the Gum Nebula, including the timing and even number of supernova explosions that formed it.

Image Credit: Victor Lima

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Today's image 30-11-2022:

The Light, the Dark, and the Dusty

 

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Explanation: This colorful skyscape spans about four full moons across nebula rich starfields along the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy in the royal northern constellation Cepheus. Near the edge of the region's massive molecular cloud some 2,400 light-years away, bright reddish emission region Sharpless (Sh) 155 is at the center of the frame, also known as the Cave Nebula. About 10 light-years across the cosmic cave's bright walls of gas are ionized by ultraviolet light from the hot young stars around it. Dusty reflection nebulae, like vdB 155 to the right, and dense obscuring clouds of dust also abound on the interstellar canvas. Astronomical explorations have revealed other dramatic signs of star formation, including the bright reddish fleck of Herbig-Haro (HH) 168. Below and right of center, the Herbig-Haro object emission is generated by energetic jets from a newborn star.

Image Credit: Anthony Quintile

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Today's image 01-12-2022:

Artemis 1: Flight Day 13

 

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Explanation: On flight day 13 (November 28) of the Artemis 1 mission the Orion spacecraft reached its maximum distance from Earth. In fact, over 430,000 kilometers from Earth its distant retrograde orbit also put Orion nearly 70,000 kilometers from the Moon. In the same field of view in this video frame from flight day 13, planet and large natural satellite even appear about the same apparent size from the uncrewed spacecraft's perspective. Today (December 1) should see Orion depart its distant retrograde orbit. En route to planet Earth it will head toward a second powered fly by of the Moon. Splashdown on the home world is expected on December 11.

Image Credit: NASA

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Today's image 07-12-2022:

NGC 7293: The Helix Nebula

 

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Explanation: A mere seven hundred light years from Earth, toward the constellation Aquarius, a sun-like star is dying. The dying star's last few thousand years have produced the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), a well studied and nearby example of a Planetary Nebula, typical of this final phase of stellar evolution. Combining narrow band image data from emission lines of hydrogen atoms in red and oxygen atoms in blue-green hues, it shows tantalizing details of the Helix, including its bright inner region about 3 light-years across. The white dot at the Helix's center is this Planetary Nebula's hot, central star. A simple looking nebula at first glance, the Helix is now understood to have a surprisingly complex geometry.

Image Credit: Tommaso Stella

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Today's image 08-12-2022:

Orion and the Ocean of Storms

 

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Explanation: A camera on board the uncrewed Orion spacecraft captured this view on December 5 as Orion approached its return powered flyby of the Moon. Below one of Orion's extended solar arrays lies dark, smooth, terrain along the western edge of the Oceanus Procellarum. Prominent on the lunar nearside Oceanus Procellarum, the Ocean of Storms, is the largest of the Moon's lava-flooded maria. The lunar terminator, shadow line between lunar night and day, runs along the left of the frame. The 41 kilometer diameter crater Marius is top center, with ray crater Kepler peeking in at the edge, just right of the solar array wing. Kepler's bright rays extend to the north and west, reaching the dark-floored Marius. Of course the Orion spacecraft is now headed toward a December 11 splashdown in planet Earth's water-flooded Pacific Ocean.

Image Credit: NASA

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Today's image 11-12-2022:

Io in True Color

 

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Explanation: The strangest moon in the Solar System is bright yellow. The featured picture, an attempt to show how Io would appear in the "true colors" perceptible to the average human eye, was taken in 1999 July by the Galileo spacecraft that orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003. Io's colors derive from sulfur and molten silicate rock. The unusual surface of Io is kept very young by its system of active volcanoes. The intense tidal gravity of Jupiter stretches Io and damps wobbles caused by Jupiter's other Galilean moons. The resulting friction greatly heats Io's interior, causing molten rock to explode through the surface. Io's volcanoes are so active that they are effectively turning the whole moon inside out. Some of Io's volcanic lava is so hot it glows in the dark.

Image Credit: NASA

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Today's image 12-12-2022:

An Unusual Globule in IC 1396

 

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Explanation: Is there a monster in IC 1396? Known to some as the Elephant's Trunk Nebula, parts of gas and dust clouds of this star formation region may appear to take on foreboding forms, some nearly human. The only real monster here, however, is a bright young star too far from Earth to hurt us. Energetic light from this star is eating away the dust of the dark cometary globule near the top of the featured image. Jets and winds of particles emitted from this star are also pushing away ambient gas and dust. Nearly 3,000 light-years distant, the relatively faint IC 1396 complex covers a much larger region on the sky than shown here, with an apparent width of more than 10 full moons.

Image Credit: Bernard Miller

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Today's image 14-12-2022:

Lunar Dust and Duct Tape

 

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Explanation: Why is the Moon so dusty? On Earth, rocks are weathered by wind and water, creating soil and sand. On the Moon, the history of constant micrometeorite bombardment has blasted away at the rocky surface creating a layer of powdery lunar soil or regolith. For the Apollo astronauts and their equipment, the pervasive, fine, gritty dust was definitely a problem. Fifty years ago, on the lunar surface in December 1972, Apollo 17 astronauts Harrison Schmitt and Eugene Cernan needed to repair one of their rover's fenders in an effort to keep the rooster tails of dust away from themselves and their gear. This picture reveals the wheel and fender of their dust covered rover along with the ingenious application of spare maps, clamps, and a grey strip of "duct tape".

Image Credit: Apollo 17

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Today's image 15-12-2022:

Full Moon, Full Mars

 

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Explanation: On December 8 a full Moon and a full Mars were close, both bright and opposite the Sun in planet Earth's sky. In fact Mars was occulted, passing behind the Moon when viewed from some locations across Europe and North America. Seen from the city of Kosice in eastern Slovakia, the lunar occultation of Mars happened just before sunrise. The tantalizing spectacle was recorded in this telescopic timelapse sequence of exposures. It took about an hour for the Red Planet to disappear behind the lunar disk and then reappear as a warm-hued full Moon, the last full Moon of 2022, sank toward the western horizon. The next lunar occultation of bright planet Mars will be in the new year on January 3, when the Moon is in a waxing gibbous phase. Lunar occultations are only ever visible from a fraction of the Earth's surface, though. The January 3 occultation of Mars will be visible from parts of the South Atlantic, southern Africa, and the Indian Ocean.

Image Credit: Tomas Slovinsky

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Today's image 16-12-2022:

The Geminid

 

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Explanation: Returning from beyond the Moon, on December 11 the Orion spacecraft entered Earth's atmosphere at almost 11 kilometers per second. That's half the speed of the grain of dust that created this long fireball meteor when it entered the atmosphere on December 13, near the peak of the annual Geminid meteor shower. As our fair planet makes its yearly pass through the dust trail of mysterious asteroid 3200 Phaethon, the parallel tracks of all Geminid meteors appear to radiate from a point in the constellation Gemini. But the twin stars of Gemini hide just behind the trees on the left in this night skyscape from the beautiful Blue Moon Valley, Yunnan, China. Reflected in the still waters of the mountain lake, stars of the constellation Orion are rising near center. Captured before moonrise, dazzling Mars is still the brightest celestial beacon in the scene.

Image Credit: Jeff Dai

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Today's image 17-12-2022:

Apollo 17 VIP Site Anaglyph

 

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Explanation: Get out your red/blue glasses and check out this stereo scene from Taurus-Littrow valley on the Moon! The color anaglyph features a detailed 3D view of Apollo 17's Lunar Rover in the foreground -- behind it lies the Lunar Module and distant lunar hills. Because the world was going to be able to watch the Lunar Module's ascent stage liftoff via the rover's TV camera, this parking place was also known as the VIP Site. Fifty years ago, in December of 1972, Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent about 75 hours on the Moon, while colleague Ronald Evans orbited overhead. The crew returned with 110 kilograms of rock and soil samples, more than from any of the other lunar landing sites. Cernan and Schmitt are still the last to walk (or drive) on the Moon.

Image Credit: Gene Cernan

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Today's image 18-12-2022:

25 Brightest Stars in the Night Sky

 

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Explanation: Do you know the names of some of the brightest stars? It's likely that you do, even though some bright stars have names so old they date back to near the beginning of written language. Many world cultures have their own names for the brightest stars, and it is culturally and historically important to remember them. In the interest of clear global communication, however, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has begun to designate standardized star names. Featured here in true color are the 25 brightest stars in the night sky, currently as seen by humans, coupled with their IAU-recognized names. Some star names have interesting meanings, including Sirius ("the scorcher" in Latin), Vega ("falling" in Arabic), and Antares ("rival to Mars" in Greek). You are likely even familiar with the name of at least one star too dim to make this list: Polaris.

Image Credit: Tragoolchitr Jittasaiyapan

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Today's image 19-12-2022:

The Tadpole Nebula in Gas and Dust

 

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Explanation: What's causing the commotion in the Tadpole Nebula? Star formation. Dusty emission in the Tadpole Nebula, IC 410, lies about 12,000 light-years away in the northern constellation of the Charioteer (Auriga). The cloud of glowing gas is over 100 light-years across, sculpted by stellar winds and radiation from embedded open star cluster NGC 1893. Formed in the interstellar cloud a mere 4 million years ago, bright newly formed cluster stars are seen all around the star-forming nebula. Notable on the lower-right of the featured image are two relatively dense streamers of material trailing away from the nebula's central regions. Potentially sites of ongoing star formation in IC 410, these cosmic tadpole shapes are about 10 light-years long. The image was processed highlighting the emission from sulfur (red), hydrogen (green), and oxygen (blue) gas -- but with the stars digitally removed.

Image Credit: Craig Stocks

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Today's image 19-12-2022:

The Tadpole Nebula in Gas and Dust

 

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Explanation: What's causing the commotion in the Tadpole Nebula? Star formation. Dusty emission in the Tadpole Nebula, IC 410, lies about 12,000 light-years away in the northern constellation of the Charioteer (Auriga). The cloud of glowing gas is over 100 light-years across, sculpted by stellar winds and radiation from embedded open star cluster NGC 1893. Formed in the interstellar cloud a mere 4 million years ago, bright newly formed cluster stars are seen all around the star-forming nebula. Notable on the lower-right of the featured image are two relatively dense streamers of material trailing away from the nebula's central regions. Potentially sites of ongoing star formation in IC 410, these cosmic tadpole shapes are about 10 light-years long. The image was processed highlighting the emission from sulfur (red), hydrogen (green), and oxygen (blue) gas -- but with the stars digitally removed.

Image Credit: Craig Stocks

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Today's image 20-12-2022:

Thor's Helmet

 

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Explanation: Thor not only has his own day (Thursday), but a helmet in the heavens. Popularly called Thor's Helmet, NGC 2359 is a hat-shaped cosmic cloud with wing-like appendages. Heroically sized even for a Norse god, Thor's Helmet is about 30 light-years across. In fact, the cosmic head-covering is more like an interstellar bubble, blown with a fast wind from the bright, massive star near the bubble's center. Known as a Wolf-Rayet star, the central star is an extremely hot giant thought to be in a brief, pre-supernova stage of evolution. NGC 2359 is located about 15,000 light-years away toward the constellation of the Great Overdog. This remarkably sharp image is a mixed cocktail of data from narrowband filters, capturing not only natural looking stars but details of the nebula's filamentary structures. The star in the center of Thor's Helmet is expected to explode in a spectacular supernova sometime within the next few thousand years.

Image Credit: Hannah Rochford

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Today's image 21-12-2022:

Sun Halo at Sixty-three Degrees North

 

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Explanation: Happy Solstice! Today is the December solstice, marking an astronomical beginning of summer in the southern hemisphere and winter in the north. On its yearly trek through planet Earth's skies, at this solstice the Sun reaches its southern most declination, 23.5 degrees south, at 21:48 UTC. About 4 days ago the Sun was near this seasonal southern limit and so only just above the horizon at local noon over Ostersund in central Sweden. This view looking over the far northern lakeside city finds the midday Sun with a beautiful solar ice halo. Naturally occurring atmospheric ice crystals can produce the tantalizing halo displays, refracting and reflecting the sunlight through their hexagonal geometry. Still, with the Sun low and near the horizon in the clear sky, likely sources of the ice crystals producing this intense halo are snow cannons. Operating at a local ski area, the snowmaking machines create a visible plume at the top of the nearby island Froson toward the right side of the panorama.

Image Credit: Goran Strand

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Today's image 22-12-2022:

NGC 1365: Majestic Island Universe

 

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Explanation: Barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365 is truly a majestic island universe some 200,000 light-years across. Located a mere 60 million light-years away toward the faint but heated constellation Fornax, NGC 1365 is a dominant member of the well-studied Fornax Cluster of galaxies. This impressively sharp color image shows the intense, reddish star forming regions near the ends of central bar and along the spiral arms, with details of the obscuring dust lanes cutting across the galaxy's bright core. At the core lies a supermassive black hole. Astronomers think NGC 1365's prominent bar plays a crucial role in the galaxy's evolution, drawing gas and dust into a star-forming maelstrom and ultimately feeding material into the central black hole.

Image Credit: Martin Pugh

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Today's image 24-12-2022:

Comet 2022 E3 (ZTF)

 

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Explanation: Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered by astronomers using the wide-field survey camera at the Zwicky Transient Facility this year in early March. Since then the new long-period comet has brightened substantially and is now sweeping across the northern constellation Corona Borealis in predawn skies. It's still too dim to see without a telescope though. But this fine telescopic image from December 19 does show the comet's brighter greenish coma, short broad dust tail, and long faint ion tail stretching across a 2.5 degree wide field-of-view. On a voyage through the inner Solar System comet 2022 E3 will be at perihelion, its closest to the Sun, in the new year on January 12 and at perigee, its closest to our fair planet, on February 1. The brightness of comets is notoriously unpredictable, but by then C/2022 E3 (ZTF) could become only just visible to the eye in dark night skies.

Image Credit: Dan Bartlett

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