A Cosmic Visitor

March 24, 2020  •  2 Comments

Last night we had a rare mostly clear sky here in Indiana so I got a chance to photograph something a little different a new comet getting closer to the Sun and getting brighter every day. It's named Comet ATLAS after the observatory that discovered it in 2019, Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System but officially known as C/2019 Y4. In the photo it's the greenish fuzzy dot near the left edge of the frame. It doesn't look like much now but is expected to brighten dramatically in the next few weeks, maybe even visible to the naked eye by May. It's been a while since there has been a really nice comet in the sky. But comets are notoriously unpredictable so I'm hopeful but not holding my breath.

Look toward the right, past the field of stars and see two whitish fuzzballs that are famous galaxies: M81 above, a classic grand spiral, and M82 below, a more bizarre specimen. Detailed images (from Hubble and other powerful telescopes) show material flowing out of the galaxy, driven by activity deep within. 

Not to be melodramatic, but here's an example, in a single image, that shows the vast depth and scale of the universe. The little green comet is part of our Solar System, a visitor from the cold, vast depths beyond Pluto. It's relatively nearby, "only" 100 million miles away or so at this time. The stars filling the frame are much farther away, but still relatively close in cosmic scales, up to a few thousand light-years away, in our Milky Way Galaxy. The two galaxies, M81 and M82 are quite a bit farther, 12 million light-years away.

Tech: Nikon D850, 85mm f/1.4 lens, 24 exposures, 30 sec. each, f/1.8, ISO 2000, iOptron SkyGuider Pro. Processed in Lightroom, median-combined in Photoshop.

For more information about Comet ATLAS and how to see it, go to https://earthsky.org/space/how-to-see-bright-comet-c-2019-y4-atlas



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