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NASA - Astronomy Picture of the Day


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Today's image 25-12-2022:

Geminids and the Mittens

 

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Explanation: Asteroid 3200 Phaethon's annual gift to planet Earth always arrives in December. Otherwise known as the Geminid meteor shower, the source of the meteroid stream is dust shed along the orbit of the mysterious asteroid. Near the December 13/14 peak of the shower's activity, geminid meteors are captured in this night skyscape, composited from 22 images of starry sky taken before the moon rose over Monument Valley in the American southwest. The bright stars near the position of the shower's radiant are the constellation Gemini's twin stars Castor (blue) and Pollux (yellow). As Earth sweeps through the dusty stream, the parallel meteor trails appear to radiate from a point on the sky in Gemini due to perspective, and so the yearly shower is named for the constellation. From the camera's perspective, this view of three prominent buttes across Monument Valley also suggests appropriate names for two of them. The third one is called Merrick Butte.

Image Credit: Chuck Derus

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Today's image 26-12-2022:

NGC 6164: Dragon's Egg Nebula and Halo

 

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Explanation: The star at the center created everything. Known as the Dragon's Egg, this star -- a rare, hot, luminous O-type star some 40 times as massive as the Sun -- created not only the complex nebula (NGC 6164) that immediately surrounds it, but also the encompassing blue halo. Its name is derived, in part, from the region's proximity to the picturesque NGC 6188, known as the fighting Dragons of Ara. In another three to four million years the massive star will likely end its life in a supernova explosion. Spanning around 4 light-years, the nebula itself has a bipolar symmetry making it similar in appearance to more common planetary nebulae - the gaseous shrouds surrounding dying sun-like stars. Also like many planetary nebulae, NGC 6164 has been found to have an extensive, faint halo, revealed in blue in this deep telescopic image of the region. Expanding into the surrounding interstellar medium, the material in the blue halo was likely expelled from an earlier active phase of the O-star. NGC 6164 lies 4,200 light-years away in the southern constellation of the Carpenter's Square (Norma).

Image Credit: Russell Croman

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Today's image 28-12-2022:

Messier 88

 

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Explanation: Charles Messier described the 88th entry in his 18th century catalog of Nebulae and Star Clusters as a spiral nebula without stars. Of course the gorgeous M88 is now understood to be a galaxy full of stars, gas, and dust, not unlike our own Milky Way. In fact, M88 is one of the brightest galaxies in the Virgo Galaxy Cluster some 50 million light-years away. M88's beautiful spiral arms are easy to trace in this sharp cosmic portait. The arms are lined with young blue star clusters, pink star-forming regions, and obscuring dust lanes extending from a yellowish core dominated by an older population of stars. Spiral galaxy M88 spans over 100,000 light-years.

Image Credit: Adam Block

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Today's image 29-12-2022:

Horsehead and Flame

 

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Explanation: The Horsehead Nebula, famous celestial dark marking also known as Barnard 33, is notched against a background glow of emission nebulae in this sharp cosmic skyscape. About five light-years "tall" the Horsehead lies some 1,500 light-years away in the constellation of Orion. Within the region's fertile molecular cloud complex, the expanse of obscuring dust has a recognizable shape only by chance from our perspective in the Milky Way though. Orion's easternmost belt star, bright Alnitak, is to the left of center. Energetic ultraviolet light from Alnitak powers the glow of dusty NGC 2024, the Flame Nebula, just below it. Completing a study in cosmic contrasts, bluish reflection nebula NGC 2023 is below the Horsehead itself. This well-framed telescopic field spans about 3 full moons on the sky.

Image Credit: Jason Close

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Today's image 30-12-2022:

Mars and the Star Clusters

 

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Explanation: At this year's end Mars still shines brightly in planet Earth's night as it wanders through the head-strong constellation Taurus. Its bright yellowish hue dominates this starry field of view that includes Taurus' alpha star Aldebaran and the Hyades and Pleiades star clusters. While red giant Aldebaran appears to anchor the V-shape of the Hyades at the left of the frame, Aldebaran is not a member of the Hyades star cluster. The Hyades cluster is 151 light-years away making it the nearest established open star cluster, but Aldebaran lies at less than half that distance, along the same line-of-sight. At the right, some 400 light-years distant is the open star cluster cataloged as Messier 45, also known as the Pleiades or Seven Sisters. In Greek myth, the Pleiades were daughters of the astronomical titan Atlas and sea-nymph Pleione.

Image Credit: Gabor Balazs

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Today's image 31-12-2022:

Moon over Makemake

 

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Explanation: Makemake (sounds like MAH-kay MAH-kay), second brightest dwarf planet of the Kuiper belt, has a moon. Nicknamed MK2, Makemake's moon reflects sunlight with a charcoal-dark surface, about 1,300 times fainter than its parent body. Still, in 2016 it was spotted in Hubble Space Telescope observations intended to search for faint companions with the same technique used to find the small satellites of Pluto. Just as for Pluto and its satellites, further observations of Makemake and orbiting moon will measure the system's mass and density and allow a broader understanding of the distant worlds. About 160 kilometers (100 miles) across compared to Makemake's 1,400 kilometer diameter, MK2's relative size and contrast are shown in this artist's vision. An imagined scene of an unexplored frontier of the Solar System, it looks back from a spacecraft's vantage as the dim Sun shines along the Milky Way. Of course, the Sun is over 50 times farther from Makemake than it is from planet Earth.

Image Credit: Alex H. Parker

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Today's image 01-01-2023:

The Largest Rock in our Solar System

 

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Explanation: There, that dot on the right, that's the largest rock known in our Solar System. It is larger than every known asteroid, moon, and comet nucleus. It is larger than any other local rocky planet. This rock is so large its gravity makes it into a large ball that holds heavy gases near its surface. (It used to be the largest known rock of any type until the recent discoveries of large dense planets orbiting other stars.) The Voyager 1 spacecraft took the featured picture -- famously called Pale Blue Dot -- of this giant space rock in 1990 from the outer Solar System. Today, this rock starts another orbit around its parent star, for roughly the 5 billionth time, spinning over 350 times during each trip. Happy Gregorian Calendar New Year to all inhabitants of this rock we call Earth.

Image Credit: NASA

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Today's image 02-01-2023:

After Sunset Planet Parade

 

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Explanation: Look up tonight and see a whole bunch of planets. Just after sunset, looking west, planets Venus, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars will all be simultaneously visible. Listed west to east, this planetary lineup will have Venus nearest the horizon, but setting shortly after the Sun. It doesn't matter where on Earth you live because this early evening planet parade will be visible through clear skies all around the globe. Taken late last month, the featured image captured all of these planets and more: the Moon and planet Mercury were also simultaneously visible. Below visibility were the planets Neptune and Uranus, making this a nearly all-planet panorama. In the foreground are hills around the small village of Gökçeören, Kaş, Turkey, near the Mediterranean coast. Bright stars Altair, Fomalhaut, and Aldebaran are also prominent, as well as the Pleiades star cluster. Venus will rise higher in the sky at sunset as January continues, but Saturn will descend.

Image Credit: Tunc Tezel

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Today's image 03-01-2023:

Kemble’s Cascade of Stars

 

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Explanation: This line of stars is real. A little too faint to see with the unaided eye, Kemble’s Cascade of stars inspires awe when seen with binoculars. Like the Big Dipper though, Kemble’s Cascade is an asterism, not a constellation. The asterism is visible in the northern sky toward the long-necked constellation of the Giraffe (Camelopardalis). This string of about 20 unrelated stars, each of similar brightness, spans over five times the angular width of the full moon. Stretching diagonally from the upper left to the lower right, Kemble's Cascade was popularized last century by astronomy enthusiast Lucian Kemble. The bright object near the top left of the image is the relatively compact Jolly Roger open cluster of stars, officially designated as NGC 1502.

Image Credit: Tommy Lease

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Today's image 04-01-2023:

CG4: The Globule and the Galaxy

 

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Explanation: Can a gas cloud eat a galaxy? It's not even close. The "claw" of this odd looking "creature" in the featured photo is a gas cloud known as a cometary globule. This globule, however, has ruptured. Cometary globules are typically characterized by dusty heads and elongated tails. These features cause cometary globules to have visual similarities to comets, but in reality they are very much different. Globules are frequently the birthplaces of stars, and many show very young stars in their heads. The reason for the rupture in the head of this object is not yet known. The galaxy to the left of the globule is huge, very far in the distance, and only placed near CG4 by chance superposition.

Image Credit: Mike Selby

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Today's image 05-01-2023:

Messier 45: The Daughters of Atlas and Pleione

 

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Explanation: Hurtling through a cosmic dust cloud a mere 400 light-years away, the lovely Pleiades or Seven Sisters open star cluster is well-known for its striking blue reflection nebulae. It lies in the night sky toward the constellation Taurus and the Orion Arm of our Milky Way galaxy. The sister stars are not related to the dusty cloud though. They just happen to be passing through the same region of space. Known since antiquity as a compact grouping of stars, Galileo first sketched the star cluster viewed through his telescope with stars too faint to be seen by eye. Charles Messier recorded the position of the cluster as the 45th entry in his famous catalog of things which are not comets. In Greek myth, the Pleiades were seven daughters of the astronomical titan Atlas and sea-nymph Pleione. Their parents names are included in the cluster's nine brightest stars. This well-processed, color-calibrated telescopic image features pin-point stars and detailed filaments of interstellar dust captured in over 9 hours of exposure. It spans more than 20 light-years across the Pleiades star cluster.

Image Credit: Stefan Thrun

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Today's image 06-01-2023:

Moon O'Clock 2022

 

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Explanation: The first Full Moon of 2023 is in the sky tonight opposite the Sun at 23:08 UTC. Big and beautiful, the Moon at its brightest phase should be easy to spot. Still, for quick reference images captured near the times of all the full moons of 2022 are aranged in this dedicated astro-imaging project from Sri Lanka, planet Earth. The day, month, and a traditional popular name for 2022's twelve full moons are given in the chart. The apparent size of each full moon depends on how close the full lunar phase is to perigee or apogee, the closest or farthest point in the Moon's elliptical orbit. Like the 2022 Wolf Moon at the 1 o'clock position, tonight's Full Moon occurs within a about two days of apogee. But unlike in 2022, the year 2023 will have 13 full moons that won't all fit nicely on the twelve hour clock.

Image Credit: Niveth Kumar

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Today's image 07-01-2023:

Space Stations in Low Earth Orbit

 

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Explanation: On January 3, two space stations already illuminated by sunlight in low Earth orbit crossed this dark predawn sky. Moving west to east (left to right) across the composited timelapse image China's Tiangong Space Station traced the upper trail captured more than an hour before the local sunrise. Seen against a starry background Tiangong passes just below the inverted Big Dipper asterism of Ursa Major near the peak of its bright arc, and above north pole star Polaris. But less than five minutes before, the International Space Station had traced its own sunlit streak across the dark sky. Its trail begins just above the W-shape outlined by the bright stars of Cassiopeia near the northern horizon. The dramatic foreground spans an abandoned mine at Achada do Gamo in southeastern Portugal.

Image Credit: Zarcos Palma

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Today's image 08-01-2023:

Where Your Elements Came From

 

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Explanation: The hydrogen in your body, present in every molecule of water, came from the Big Bang. There are no other appreciable sources of hydrogen in the universe. The carbon in your body was made by nuclear fusion in the interior of stars, as was the oxygen. Much of the iron in your body was made during supernovas of stars that occurred long ago and far away. The gold in your jewelry was likely made from neutron stars during collisions that may have been visible as short-duration gamma-ray bursts or gravitational wave events. Elements like phosphorus and copper are present in our bodies in only small amounts but are essential to the functioning of all known life. The featured periodic table is color coded to indicate humanity's best guess as to the nuclear origin of all known elements. The sites of nuclear creation of some elements, such as copper, are not really well known and are continuing topics of observational and computational research.

Image Credit: Wikipedia

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Today's image 09-01-2023:

Tails of Comet ZTF

 

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Explanation: Comet ZTF may become visible to the unaided eye. Discovered early last year, this massive snowball has been brightening as it approaches the Sun and the Earth. C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will be closest to the Sun later this week, at which time it may become visible even without binoculars to northern observers with a clear and dark sky. As they near the Sun, comet brightnesses are notoriously hard to predict, though. In the featured image taken last week in front of a picturesque star field, three blue ion tails extend to the upper right, likely the result of a variable solar wind on ions ejected by the icy comet nucleus. The comet's white dust tail is visible to the upper left and much shorter. The green glow is the comet's coma, caused by glowing carbon gas. Comet ZTF is expected to pass nearest the Earth in early February, after which it should dim dramatically.

Image Credit: Jose Francisco Hernández

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Today's image 10-01-2023:

NGC 2264: The Cone Nebula

 

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Explanation: Stars are forming in the gigantic dust pillar called the Cone Nebula. Cones, pillars, and majestic flowing shapes abound in stellar nurseries where clouds of gas and dust are sculpted by energetic winds from newborn stars. The Cone Nebula, a well-known example, lies within the bright galactic star-forming region NGC 2264. The featured image of the Cone was captured recently combining 24-hours of exposure with a half-meter telescope at the El Sauce Observatory in Chile. Located about 2,500 light-years away toward the constellation of the Unicorn (Monoceros), the Cone Nebula's conical pillar extends about 7 light-years. The massive star NGC 2264 IRS, is the likely source of the wind sculpting the Cone Nebula and lies off the top of the image. The Cone Nebula's reddish veil is produced by glowing hydrogen gas.

Image Credit: Matthew Dieterich

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Today's image 11-01-2023:

Spiral Aurora over Iceland

 

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Explanation: The scene may look like a fantasy, but it's really Iceland. The rock arch is named Gatklettur and located on the island's northwest coast. Some of the larger rocks in the foreground span a meter across. The fog over the rocks is really moving waves averaged over long exposures. The featured image is a composite of several foreground and background shots taken with the same camera and from the same location on the same night last November. The location was picked for its picturesque foreground, but the timing was planned for its colorful background: aurora. The spiral aurora, far behind the arch, was one of the brightest seen in the astrophotographer's life. The coiled pattern was fleeting, though, as auroral patterns waved and danced for hours during the cold night. Far in the background were the unchanging stars, with Earth's rotation causing them to appear to slowly circle the sky's northernmost point near Polaris.

Image Credit: Stefano Pellegrini

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Today's image 12-01-2023:

Stardust in Perseus

 

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Explanation: This cosmic expanse of dust, gas, and stars covers some 6 degrees on the sky in the heroic constellation Perseus. At upper left in the gorgeous skyscape is the intriguing young star cluster IC 348 and neighboring Flying Ghost Nebula with clouds of obscuring interstellar dust cataloged as Barnard 3 and 4. At right, another active star forming region NGC 1333 is connected by dark and dusty tendrils on the outskirts of the giant Perseus Molecular Cloud, about 850 light-years away. Other dusty nebulae are scattered around the field of view, along with the faint reddish glow of hydrogen gas. In fact, the cosmic dust tends to hide the newly formed stars and young stellar objects or protostars from prying optical telescopes. Collapsing due to self-gravity, the protostars form from the dense cores embedded in the molecular cloud. At the molecular cloud's estimated distance, this field of view would span over 90 light-years.

Image Credit: Jack Groves

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Today's image 14-01-2023:

Perihelion Sun 2023

 

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Explanation: Perihelion for 2023, Earth's closest approach to the Sun, was on January 4 at 16:17 UTC. That was less than 24 hours after this sharp image of the Sun's disk was recorded with telescope and H-alpha filter from Sidney, Australia, planet Earth. An H-alpha filter transmits a characteristic red light from hydrogen atoms. In views of the Sun it emphasizes the Sun's chromosphere, a region just above the solar photosphere or normally visible solar surface. In this H-alpha image of the increasingly active Sun planet-sized sunspot regions are dominated by bright splotches called plages. Dark filaments of plasma snaking across the solar disk transition to bright prominences when seen above the solar limb.

Image Credit: Barden Ridge Observatory

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Today's image 15-01-2023:

M1: The Crab Nebula from Hubble

 

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Explanation: This is the mess that is left when a star explodes. The Crab Nebula, the result of a supernova seen in 1054 AD, is filled with mysterious filaments. The filaments are not only tremendously complex, but appear to have less mass than expelled in the original supernova and a higher speed than expected from a free explosion. The featured image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, is presented in three colors chosen for scientific interest. The Crab Nebula spans about 10 light-years. In the nebula's very center lies a pulsar: a neutron star as massive as the Sun but with only the size of a small town. The Crab Pulsar rotates about 30 times each second.

Image Credit: NASA

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Today's image 16-01-2023:

Moon Enhanced

 

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Explanation: Our Moon doesn't really look like this. Earth's Moon, Luna, doesn't naturally show this rich texture, and its colors are more subtle. But this digital creation is based on reality. The featured image is a composite of multiple images and enhanced to bring up real surface features. The enhancements, for example, show more clearly craters that illustrate the tremendous bombardment our Moon has been through during its 4.6-billion-year history. The dark areas, called maria, have fewer craters and were once seas of molten lava. Additionally, the image colors, although based on the moon's real composition, are changed and exaggerated. Here, a blue hue indicates a region that is iron rich, while orange indicates a slight excess of aluminum. Although the Moon has shown the same side to the Earth for billions of years, modern technology is allowing humanity to learn much more about it -- and how it affects the Earth.

Image Credit: Darya Kawa Mirza

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Today's image 17-01-2023:

Unexpected Clouds Toward the Andromeda Galaxy

 

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Explanation: Why are there oxygen-emitting arcs near the direction of the Andromeda galaxy? No one is sure. The gas arcs, shown in blue, were discovered and first confirmed by amateur astronomers just last year. The two main origin hypotheses for the arcs are that they really are close to Andromeda (M31), or that they are just coincidentally placed gas filaments in our Milky Way galaxy. Adding to the mystery is that arcs were not seen in previous deep images of M31 taken primarily in light emitted by hydrogen, and that other, more distant galaxies have not been generally noted as showing similar oxygen-emitting structures. Dedicated amateurs using commercial telescopes made this discovery because, in part, professional telescopes usually investigate angularly small patches of the night sky, whereas these arcs span several times the angular size of the full moon. Future observations -- both in light emitted by oxygen and by other elements -- are sure to follow.

Image Credit: Yann Sainty

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Today's image 18-01-2023:

MACS0647: Gravitational Lensing of the Early Universe by Webb

 

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Explanation: Gravitational lensing by the galaxy cluster MACS0647 -- in which the massive foreground cluster distorts and lenses the light emitted by distant background galaxies along the line of sight — is on vivid display here in this recent multi-color infrared image from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). In particular, the background source MACS0647-JD is seen to be lensed three times by the cluster. When first discovered with the Hubble Space Telescope, MACS0647-JD was observed as an amorphous blob. With Webb though, this single source is revealed to be a pair or small group of galaxies. The colors of the MACS0647-JD objects are different as well -- indicating differences potentially in the age or dust content of these galaxies. These new images provide rare examples of galaxies in an era only a few 100 million years after the Big Bang.

Image Credit: NASA

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Today's image 19-01-2023:

The Seagull Nebula

 

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Explanation: A broad expanse of glowing gas and dust presents a bird-like visage to astronomers from planet Earth, suggesting its popular moniker - The Seagull Nebula. Using narrowband image data, this 3-panel mosaic of the cosmic bird covers a 2.5 degree swath across the plane of the Milky Way, near the direction of Sirius, alpha star of the constellation Canis Major. Likely part of a larger shell structure swept up by successive supernova explosions, the broad Seagull Nebula is cataloged as Sh2-296 and IC 2177. The prominent bluish arc below and right of center is a bow shock from runaway star FN Canis Majoris. This complex of gas and dust clouds with other stars of the Canis Majoris OB1 association spans over 200 light-years at the Seagull Nebula's estimated 3,800 light-year distance.

Image Credit: Carlos Taylor

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Today's image 21-01-2023:

Naked-eye Comet ZTF

 

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Explanation: Comet C/2022E3 (ZTF) is no longer too dim to require a telescope for viewing. By January 19, it could just be seen with the naked eye in this rural sky with little light pollution from a location about 20 kilometers from Salamanca, Spain. Still, telescopic images are needed to show any hint of the comet's pretty green coma, stubby whitish dust tail, and long ion tail. Its faint ion tail has been buffeted by recent solar activity. This visitor from the distant Oort cloud rounded the Sun on January 12. and is now sweeping through stars near the northern boundary of the constellation Bootes. Outward bound but still growing brighter, Comet ZTF makes its closest approach on February 2, coming to within about 2.4 light-minutes of our fair planet.

Image Credit: Organización Salmantina de la Astronáutica y el Espacio

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