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This Celestial Show Is So Crowded It Almost Looks Unreal

Illustration for article titled This Celestial Show Is So Crowded It Almost Looks Unreal

There are not three, four or five, but six different night sky phenomena visible in this amazing astrophoto taken by Petr Horálek, European Southern Observatory's photo ambassador.


The image was captured earlier in January 2015, during a visit to La Silla Observatory, just on the outskirts of the Chilean Atacama Desert. Let's count together! We can see:

  1. Comet Lovejoy, glowing green in the centre of the image
  2. The Pleiades above and to the right of the comet
  3. California Nebula, a red arc of gas to the right of Lovejoy
  4. A meteor on the left of Comet Lovejoy
  5. The hazy pool of green light collecting along the horizon
  6. A thin shroud of low altitude clouds below the observatory

The Panamericana Highway and the telescopes of La Silla are the grateful audience for this celestial performance. I wish I were there, so I knew it was definitely real. [P. Horálek/ESO]

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That green glow is oxygen in the upper atmosphere. It's visible in many night-side photos from orbit.