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article imageThe only photo of Comet Lovejoy you need to see this week

By David Silverberg     Jan 5, 2015 in Science
Dropping the jaws of skywatchers worldwide is this photograph of Comet Lovejoy as it passes by Earth. Taken by amateur photographer Gerald Rhemann, the photo shows the comet leaving an incredible trail of ice and gas in its wake.
The photo is a four-panel mosaic comprised of individual images taken with a 30-centimeter-wide field telescope, each with a total exposure of about 20 minutes. Rhemann snapped photos in late December in Namibia but only now is the photo enjoying immense attention online.
Lovejoy is currently zooming past Orion, travelling at 15 miles per second, and isn’t too hard to notice with binoculars.
As the Daily Mail notes, Lovejoy began with a magnitude 15 brightness and "has since reached magnitude 5, the brightness necessary to be seen without the aid of a telescope." January 7 is expected to be the date where the comet will reach its brightness peak, since it will be closest to our planet at 70.2 million kilometers.
You might be wondering why the comet looks green. Slate writer Phil Plait says "the comet is green due to the presence of diatomic carbon (C2). Sunlight energizes the molecule and makes it glow."
This comet could take approximately 14,000 years to make its way around the sun, as we learn here.
Comet Lovejoy has been identified as a long-period comet, and "astronomers estimate that it won’t return for another 8,000 years."
Comets are described as piles of rock, gravel, and dust held together by various kinds of ice (in general, water and carbon dioxide ice).
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