Comet turns into a Christmas star (Videos - Photos)

 It was just a year ago that NASA Astronaut Dan Burbank caught sight of what he called "the most amazing thing I have ever seen in space": Comet Lovejoy and its long streams of shining gas and dust, seen from a vantage point 240 miles above Earth.

The spectacle that Burbank saw from the International Space Station, and that other observers watched from the world below, was quickly nicknamed the "Great Christmas Comet of 2011" and the "Star of Wonder." Lovejoy lit up the skies of the Southern Hemisphere — but most northern observers could experience it only vicariously.

Next Christmas, there's a chance that the Northern Hemisphere will get in on a star of wonder: Comet ISON, which is due to make its circuit through the inner solar system next November and December. It's still too early to say whether ISON will be the "Great Christmas Comet of 2013" or a great disappointment. But astronomers are keeping a close eye on the comet, and some are wondering whether they're already seeing the start of a cometary tail.

This Christmas, the rest of us will have to content ourselves with visions of future sugarplum comets — and tales of the original Star of Wonder, more than two millennia ago.

This look back at Comet Lovejoy serves as the penultimate picture from the Cosmic Log Space Advent Calendar, which has been offering up daily images of Earth from space through the month of December.

Comet Lovejoy's tail rises up from near Earth's horizon in an image captured by NASA astronaut Dan Burbank on Dec. 21, 2011.

Christmas morning, seen from space

VIDEO 'Amazing' view of comet from space
NASA astronaut Dan Burbank spots Comet Lovejoy from the International Space Station. 

Comet Lovejoy streaks through the pre-dawn skies above the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile on Dec. 22.

VIDEO Comet Lovejoy from the VLT, Chile
Comet Lovejoy from the VLT, Chile from Gabe Brammer on Vimeo.
Comet Lovejoy and the ISS Image Credit: Left - Carlos Caccia, (Intendente Alvear, Argentina) / Right - Dan Burbank (ISS Expedition 30, NASA) 

Comet Hale-Bopp Over Val Parola Pass Image Credit & Copyright: A. Dimai, (Col Druscie Obs.), AAC Explanation: Comet Hale-Bopp, the Great Comet of 1997, became much brighter than any surrounding stars. It was seen even over bright city lights. Away from city lights, however, it put on quite a spectacular show. Here Comet Hale-Bopp was photographed above Val Parola Pass in the Dolomite mountains surrounding Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. Comet Hale-Bopp's blue ion tail, consisting of ions from the comet's nucleus, is pushed out by the solar wind. The white dust tail is composed of larger particles of dust from the nucleus driven by the pressure of sunlight, that orbit behind the comet. Observations showed that Comet Hale-Bopp's nucleus spins about once every 12 hours. A comet that may well exceed Hale-Bopp's peak brightness is expected to fall into the inner Solar System next year.

Responses to "Past and future Christmas comets"

  1. Phoenix says:

    Wow! What a beautiful sight! ;-)

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