Incredible Pic of Comet Leonard Captured on Christmas Day Wins Top Prize at Astronomy Photographer of the Year Competition

by Lauren Boisvert
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Photographer Gerald Rhemann recently won the coveted top prize in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year Competition. Rhemann snapped an incredible photo of Comet Leonard as it came close to Earth last December, and the crystal-clear photo shows the remarkable event that happened to the comet’s tail.

According to Space.com, the comet experienced a disconnection event, which is where part of the tail is carried away by a solar wind. This results in a twisted-looking tail on the comet. Rhemann’s photo captured exactly that event.

The photo was captured in Namibia on Christmas Day. Previously, Comet Leonard came close to Earth around December 12, 2021. Initially the comet was first identified by G.J. Leonard in January 2021 at the Mt. Lemmon Sky Center Observatory. On Jan. 3, 2022, it flew closest to the Sun, within about 56 million miles. As of now, it’s most likely out in interstellar space somewhere, as it will never come close to the Sun again.

Of his spectacular win, Rhemann said in a statement, “This award is one of the highlights of my astrophotography work. All the effort that went into making this image a success was worth it.”

Photographer Wins Award for Photo of Comet Leonard, While NASA Captures Cool Pic of Overlapping Galaxies

Recently, NASA posted a photo on Twitter of two galaxies overlapping, looking sort of like a bright, swirling snail. The Hubble Space Telescope snapped this image of galaxies SDSS J115331 and LEDA 2073461, as they are officially known. They are over one billion lightyears away, and while they look like they’re on top of each other, there’s actually quite a bit of distance between them.

Hubble’s website explained the phenomenon. “Despite appearing to collide in this image,” the site explained, “the alignment of the two galaxies is likely just by chance — the two are not actually interacting. While these two galaxies might simply be ships that pass in the night, Hubble has captured a dazzling array of interacting galaxies in the past.”

Could Colliding Galaxies Preview Our Own Fate?

Speaking of interacting galaxies, The Gemini North telescope on the summit of Hawaii’s Maunakea spotted two galaxies that are fixing to merge together. Called the Butterfly Galaxies, NGC 4567 and NGC 4568 are slowly merging. They will combine into one super galaxy in about 500 million years.

According to a report from CNN, the galaxies are 20,000 lightyears away from each other currently. But, they’re being pulled together over time. In this way, the Milky Way is similarly being pulled toward the Andromeda galaxy. According to NASA, which used data from the Hubble Telescope, the merge is set to happen around 4 billion to 5 billion years from now. So, we’ve got some time. Andromeda is currently 2.5 million lightyears from the Milky Way. This sounds like a lot, but we can actually see it faintly in our skies during the fall season.

According to NASA, the Earth will most likely not be destroyed by the merging galaxies. But, the Sun may shift positions in the new super galaxy. This means we’ll get some new celestial views–if we were around to see them, that is.

Outsider.com