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.
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.
Video credit: NASA.