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By Lola Gayle, Editor-at-large

This image shows the Auxiliary Telescope at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) — located at the Paranal Observatory in Chile — pointing straight at the greenish emerald glow of the comet 252P/LINEAR high above it.

Discovered on April 7, 2000, 252P/LINEAR is a relative newcomer to the inner Solar System, traveling between the orbit of Jupiter and the orbit of Earth. In March 2016, it passed particularly close to the Earth, at a distance of only 5.2 million kilometers, ranking as the fifth closest recorded passage of a comet. It can still be admired in the southern hemisphere. The green color arises from fluorescing carbon-based gas surrounding the comet.

This gem of a picture was taken by the ESO Photo Ambassador Babak A. Tafreshi for use in ESO’s Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre.


041216-cosmic wonders comet 252P LINEAR 2
ESO/P. Horálek

In the second image, the illuminated dome of the La Residencia hotel produces no light pollution to impede the work of the telescopes. Here we see the magical arc of the Milky Way spanning the sky, To the left, near the horizon, is comet 252P/LINEAR.

This wonderful image was captured by ESO Photo Ambassador Petr Horálek who is also a member of ESO’s Fulldome Expedition, amassing photographic images to use in planetarium shows. The material will be used in ESO’s Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre, currently under construction at ESO’s Headquarters in Garching, Germany. Thanks to the magic of photography, Petr himself also appears in this image, gazing in wonder at the display above him.

The image also contains other splendors of the southern sky, including the Magellanic Clouds just above the dome of the Residencia. To the left of the picture two bright orange objects are visible. The left one of the pair is the planet Mars, currently drawing close to the Earth, and just to its right lies Antares, a distant red giant star whose name appropriately means “the rival of Mars.” Just below them, and whiter in color, is the planet Saturn.

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