In this amazing image, Comet Lovejoy blasts past the Earth (just visible near Earth’s horizon). This comet was discovered in November of 2011 by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy. From the get-go, scientists did not believe that the comet would have had a happy ending or make another pass by the Earth.
As Lovejoy sped into the Sun’s corona in 2011, passing within just 87,000 miles of the sun’s surface (well within spitting distance—astronomically speaking), most were assured that the comet would not survive the encounter. Scientists believed that the Sun would consume (melt off) most of the comet’s material. However, the comet managed to withstand the several million degree solar corona for close to an hour, and it headed back out into the solar system.
Lovejoy is a fascinating object: It belongs to the Kreutz family of sun-grazing comets (likely all pieces of a single giant comet that splintered apart in approximately 1106 AD), and it is believed to be the largest fragment of the giant comet. Since it was able to withstand the intense heat of the Sun, astronomers believe that the comet is larger than initially anticipated.
The photo was taken on Dec. 22, 2011 by NASA astronaut Dan Burbank while he was on the International Space Station.