Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2002 April 22
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

Comet and Aurora Over Alaska
Credit & Copyright: Dennis Mammana (Skyscapes)

Explanation: Can you spot the comet? Flowing across the frozen Alaskan landscape is an easily visible, colorful aurora. Just to the lower left, however, well in the background, is something harder to spot: Comet Ikeya-Zhang, the brightest comet of recent years. Although the aurora faded in minutes, the comet is just now beginning to fade. It remains just barely visible without aid, however, before sunrise in the East. The comet is actually a giant dirt-covered snowball that spends most of its time in the outer Solar System -- to where it is now returns. The above photograph was taken on March 20 when Comet Ikeya-Zhang was near its brightest. Careful inspection of the photo will uncover several other sky delights, including the giant galaxy M31.

Tomorrow's picture: Space Station

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.