A Commanding View of a Comet

A time-lapse movie taken from the International Space Station shows a brightening view of Earth’s horizon at dawn on December 21. It features an orbital view of lightning storms, stars, airglow… and the dramatic appearance of “sungrazer” Comet Lovejoy as it rises above the atmosphere! Incredible!

Discovered on December 2 by amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy in Australia, Comet Lovejoy recently survived its close pass around the Sun, traveling through the sun’s corona and reappearing shortly after from the opposite side. It had been anticipated that Lovejoy would disintegrate during approach… it seems this newly-discovered interplanetary traveler is tougher than we thought!

The images for the time-lapse were taken by ISS Expedition 29/30 Commander Dan Burbank, who then describes his privileged view of Lovejoy from low-Earth orbit.

SOHO image of Lovejoy approaching the sun on Dec. 15, 2011. Credit: NASA/SOHO

Although not exactly known, it’s believed Lovejoy’s core must be at least 500 meters (1,640 feet) in diameter in order for it to have survived perihelion, its closest approach to the sun.

Its tail, bright upon arrival, was lost as it rounded the sun but reappeared during its outward travel. What’s seen in the video above is its new tail, which now precedes it as it moves away from the sun.

Read more about Comet Lovejoy here.

Video credit: NASA.

Human Journey

I'm a graphic designer and space blogger, currently writing for National Geographic News, Discovery News, Universe Today and on my own blog, Lights in the Dark. The Universe is an amazing place and I'm going to tell you about it, one discovery at a time.