Comet ZTF has a distinctive shape. The now bright comet visiting the inner Solar System has been showing not only a common dust tail, ion tail, and green gas coma, but also an uncommonly distinctive antitail. The antitail does not actually lead the comet — it is just that the head of the comet is seen superposed on part of the fanned-out and trailing dust tail. The giant dirty snowball that is Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) has now passed its closest to the Sun and tomorrow will pass its closest to the Earth. The main panel of the featured triple image shows how Comet ZTF looked last week to the unaided eye under a dark and clear sky over Cáceres, Spain. The top inset image shows how the comet looked through binoculars, while the lower inset shows how the comet looked through a small telescope. The comet is now visible all night long from northern latitudes but will surely fade from easy observation during the next few weeks. [via NASA]
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Globular clusters once ruled the Milky Way. Back in the old days, back when our Galaxy first formed, perhaps thousands of globular clusters roamed our Galaxy. Today, there are less than 200 left. Over the eons, many globular clusters were destroyed by repeated fateful encounters with each other or the Galactic center. Surviving relics are older than any Earth fossil, older than any other structures in our Galaxy, and limit the universe itself in raw age. There are few, if any, young globular clusters left in our Milky Way Galaxy because conditions are not ripe for more to form. The featured image shows a Hubble Space Telescope view of 13-billion year old NGC 6355, a surviving globular cluster currently passing near the Milky Way’s center. Globular cluster stars are concentrated toward the image center and highlighted by bright blue stars. Most other stars in the frame are dimmer, redder, and just coincidently lie near the direction to NGC 6355. [via NASA]

Where did all the stars go? What used to be considered a hole in the sky is now known to astronomers as a dark molecular cloud. Here, a high concentration of dust and molecular gas absorb practically all the visible light emitted from background stars. The eerily dark surroundings help make the interiors of molecular clouds some of the coldest and most isolated places in the universe. One of the most notable of these dark absorption nebulae is a cloud toward the constellation Ophiuchus known as Barnard 68, pictured here. That no stars are visible in the center indicates that Barnard 68 is relatively nearby, with measurements placing it about 500 light-years away and half a light-year across. It is not known exactly how molecular clouds like Barnard 68 form, but it is known that these clouds are themselves likely places for new stars to form. In fact, Barnard 68 itself has been found likely to collapse and form a new star system. It is possible to look right through the cloud in infrared light. [via NASA]

Comet ZTF over Mount Etna

Comet-like plumes are blowing over the volcanic peaks of Mount Etna in this wintry mountain-and-skyscape from planet Earth. The stacked and blended combination of individual exposures recorded during the cold night of January 23, also capture naked-eye Comet ZTF just above Etna’s snowy slopes. Of course increasing sunlight and the solar wind are responsible for the comet’s greenish coma and broad dusty tail. This weekend Comet ZTF is dashing across northern skies between north star Polaris and the Big Dipper. From a dark site you can only just spot it as a fuzzy patch though. That’s still an impressive achievement if you consider you are gazing at a visitor from the distant Oort cloud with your own eyes. But binoculars or a small telescope will make for an even more enjoyable view of this Comet ZTF in the coming days. [via NASA]

Comet ZTF: Orbital Plane Crossing

The current darling of the northern night, Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF is captured in this telescopic image from a dark sky location at June Lake, California. Of course Comet ZTF has been growing brighter in recent days, headed for its closest approach to Earth on February 1. But this view was recorded on January 23, very close to the time planet Earth crossed the orbital plane of long-period Comet ZTF. The comet’s broad, whitish dust tail is still curved and fanned out away from the Sun as Comet ZTF sweeps along its orbit. Due to perspective near the orbital plane crossing, components of the fanned out dust tail appear on both sides of the comet’s green tinted coma though, to lend Comet ZTF a visually striking (left) anti-tail. Buffeted by solar activity the comet’s narrower ion tail also streams away from the coma diagonally to the right, across the nearly three degree wide field of view. [via NASA]

Active Galaxy NGC 1275

Active galaxy NGC 1275 is the central, dominant member of the large and relatively nearby Perseus Cluster of Galaxies. Wild-looking at visible wavelengths, the active galaxy is also a prodigious source of x-rays and radio emission. NGC 1275 accretes matter as entire galaxies fall into it, ultimately feeding a supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s core. This color composite image made from Hubble Space Telescope data recorded during 2006. It highlights the resulting galactic debris and filaments of glowing gas, some up to 20,000 light-years long. The filaments persist in NGC 1275, even though the turmoil of galactic collisions should destroy them. What keeps the filaments together? Observations indicate that the structures, pushed out from the galaxy’s center by the black hole’s activity, are held together by magnetic fields. Also known as Perseus A, NGC 1275 spans over 100,000 light years and lies about 230 million light years away. [via NASA]

To some, the dark shape looks like a mythical boogeyman. Scientifically, Lynds’ Dark Nebula (LDN) 1622 appears against a faint background of glowing hydrogen gas only visible in long telescopic exposures of the region. In contrast, the brighter reflection nebula vdB 62 is more easily seen just above and to the right of center in the featured image. LDN 1622 lies near the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy, close on the sky to Barnard’s Loop, a large cloud surrounding the rich complex of emission nebulae found in the Belt and Sword of Orion. With swept-back outlines, the obscuring dust of LDN 1622 is thought to lie at a similar distance, perhaps 1,500 light-years away. At that distance, this 2-degree wide field of view would span about 60 light-years. Young stars do lie hidden within the dark expanse and have been revealed in Spitzer Space Telescope infrared images. [via NASA]

If you could stand on exoplanet LHS 475 b, what might you see? No one knows for sure but pictured here is an interesting guess made by an Earth-based artificial intelligence (AI) engine. The existence of the exoplanet was indicated in data taken by the Earth-orbiting TESS satellite but confirmed and further investigated only this year by the near-Earth Sun-orbiting James Webb Space Telescope. What is known for sure is that LHS 475 b has a mass very similar to our Earth and closely orbits a small red star about 40 light years away. The featured AI-illustrated guess depicts a plausibly rugged Earth-like landscape replete with molten lava and with the central red star rising in the distance. Webb data does not as yet reveal, however, whether LHS 475 b has an atmosphere. One of Webb’s science objectives is to follow up previous discoveries of distant exoplanets to better discern their potential for developing life. [via NASA]

Two galaxies are squaring off in Virgo and here are the latest pictures. When two galaxies collide, the stars that compose them usually do not. This is because galaxies are mostly empty space and, however bright, stars only take up only a small fraction of that space. But during the collision, one galaxy can rip the other apart gravitationally, and dust and gas common to both galaxies does collide. If the two galaxies merge, black holes that likely resided in each galaxy center may eventually merge. Because the distances are so large, the whole thing takes place in slow motion — over hundreds of millions of years. Besides the two large spiral galaxies, a smaller third galaxy is visible on the far left of the featured image of Arp 274, also known as NGC 5679. Arp 274 spans about 200,000 light years across and lies about 400 million light years away toward the constellation of Virgo. [via NASA]

Raise your arms if you see an aurora. With those instructions, two nights went by with, well, clouds — mostly. On the third night of returning to same peaks, though, the sky not only cleared up but lit up with a spectacular auroral display. Arms went high in the air, patience and experience paid off, and the creative featured image was captured as a composite from three separate exposures. The setting is a summit of the Austnesfjorden fjord close to the town of Svolvear on the Lofoten islands in northern Norway. The time was early 2014. Although our Sun passed the solar minimum of its 11-year cycle only a few years ago, surface activity is picking up and already triggering more spectacular auroras here on Earth. [via NASA]