An Infrequent Visitor to the Skies Above Paranal
Comet 252P/LINEAR spotted by ESO’s Fulldome Expedition photographers
5 April 2016
ESO Photo Ambassador Petr Horálek is in Chile at the moment, as 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. As a warm-up he captured this astonishingly rich image of the skies above ESO’s Paranal Observatory, home of the Very Large Telescope facility. Thanks to the magic of photography, Petr himself also appears in this image, gazing in wonder at the display above him.
The Milky Way arches above the illuminated dome of the astronomers’ hotel — La Residencia, as it is called — which has been specially designed so as not to produce any light pollution that would interfere with the operation of the telescopes. Other splendours of the southern sky, including the Magellanic Clouds just above the dome of the Residencia, are clearly visible in this striking image.
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 colour, is the planet Saturn.
But the truly rare object in this image is to be found on the left hand side of the sky, just above the horizon. Appearing as a fuzzy, greenish blob is the comet known as 252P/LINEAR. Discovered in April 2000, 252P/LINEAR passes close to the Earth and Jupiter on its course through the heavens, and its path is regularly disrupted by Jupiter’s gravity. In March it passed particularly close to the Earth and it is still a spectacular feature in the sky, the gas around it glowing an eerie green.
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