Image of the Month - December 2004

Christmas Comet

The Star of Bethlehem probably was not a comet: The medieval Italian artist Giotto di Bondone was apparently the first painter to depict a comet in his painting The Christmas Story, after he observed Halley's comet in 1301. When that comet returned in 1986, a European space probe named in honor of Giotto painted a somewhat different, closeup image of the comet. This year, however, a real comet will grace the skies during the christmas season. Comet C/2004 Q2 (Machholz) was discovered by Don Machholz on August 27, 2004 - it was his tenth discovery, and the first in 10 years, after sweeping the sky for 1,457 with no luck. The comet will be a fine sight during the next few weeks.

C/2004 Q2 (Machholz)
Credit & Copyright: Ramón Naves Nogues, Observatorio Montcabrer, Spain

Ramón Naves Nogues took this composite image on 2004 November 17, when the total brightness of the comet was just around 11mag. Nevertheless, comet Machholz displays two nice tails: a broad, somewhat curved dust tail towards the west (right), and a slim, straight gas tail in the anti-solar direction towards the north (up). The image shown here is a composite of three images, taken with a SBIG ST-9 CCD camera on the 0.3m Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope of the Observatorio Montcabrer near Barcelona, Cataluña, Spain. The total exposure time is 25 minutes. Click on the image above to see a full resolution view (100kB).

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