Comet Lovejoy (C/2011 W3)
survived its close encounter with the Sun
earlier this month,
taking its place
of the southern skies just in time for Christmas.
Seen here before sunrise from Paranal Observatory in Chile,
the sungrazing comet's tails stretch far above the eastern horizon.
Spanning over 20 degrees they rise
alongside the plane of the our Milky Way galaxy.
A breathtaking spectacle in itself, Lovejoy performs on
this celestial stage
with southern stars and nebulae,
including the Large and Small
Magellanic clouds right of the
telescope dome, and the glow of
zodiacal light along the
left edge of the frame.
With Paranal's Very Large Telescope
units in the foreground, this
wide-angle scene was captured on December 23.
Receding from the Sun, Comet Lovejoy's tails have continued
to grow in length even as the comet fades.