Image Credit: ESO/Petr Horálek

If there is one thing that frustrates astronomers and astrophotographers,  it’s light. Specifically, it’s light from towns and nearby cities that clouds the sky and drowns out the stars. And even if you don’t make your living looking towards the sky, it’s rather frustrating to wander outside at night and see nothing a foggy, murky glow. Perhaps worst of all, you don’t even need to be particularly close to a city in order to have your view altered. The light pollution of a city can be seen from a long, long ways off.

As the United States National park Service notes, “Outdoor lighting is deemed necessary for a productive modern society, nonetheless the widespread use of artificial light has substantially altered the natural pattern of darkness. The brightening of the night sky is not limited to urban environments as the glow from cities has been documented by the NPS at distances over 200 miles from national parks.”

Image of all the lights on Earth. Image credit: NASA

If you are lucky, you live in an area that isn’t subjected to vast amounts of light pollution. However, if you do live in an area that suffers from light pollution, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) may be able to give you a bit of a reprieve.

Recently,  the ESO released an amazing long-exposure image that has six different kinds of celestial phenomena. The photograph was captured over ESO’s La Silla Observatory throughout the month of January 2015. So no, all of these phenomena were not captured on one evening. In that respect, it is akin to all of the amazing time-lapse videos that come out of NASA and the ESA, except that this is a long-exposure still shot instead of a moving image.

The photograph was taken by photo ambassador, Petr Horálek.. Petr was able to capture such stunning views because the Observatory sits atop the Chilean Atacama Desert, more than 7,800 feet (2,400 meters) up. And the image shows some pretty rare events. The most intriguing is comet Lovejoy, which can be seen in the center of the image.

As the ESO notes, “This is the first time the comet has passed through the inner Solar System and ignited so spectacularly in over 11,000 years. Its highly elliptical orbit about the Sun — adjusted slightly due to meddling planets — means that it will not grace our skies for another 8000 years once it has rounded the Sun and begun its lonely voyage back into the cold outer regions of the Solar System.” The comet’s greenish color is caused by carbon compounds, which are responding to the ultraviolet radiation that is being emitted from the sun.

The other highlight in the image are:

  • The bright glow of a meteor to the mid-left region of the image (it is the bright, yellow streak)
  • Comet Lovejoy, burning bright green in the center of the image
  • The Pleiades, which are also known as the Seven Sisters, which are shining just to the right of Comet Lovejoy
  • The California Nebula, which is still farther to the right in the image
  • Low altitude clouds lurking just beneath the observatory
  • And the hazy glow of oxygen in the atmosphere turning it all green

Haven’t had your fill? Then see some of the amazing images that come out of the ESO by visiting this page.


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