Marie-Claire Hainaut, a member of the Gemini science staff, was observing with the Gemini South telescope in central Chile on the night of January 18th when she captured this image of Comet McNaught in the twilight sky. The recently arrived Comet McNaught has put on a world-wide show over the last two weeks during its apparition in the western sky. Surprising even veteran comet researchers, McNaught has become the brightest comet visible in over 40 years. The image taken by Marie-Claire shows the bright nucleus low in the sky over the town of Andacollo in the foothills of the central Andes. The sweeping dust tail of the comet can be seen extending over 30 degrees toward the zenith.
When asked about the image Marie-Claire noted, “When I went outside from the telescope control room and looked to the west I was stunned… The comet and its amazingly large tail were a truly amazing sight. I took as many pictures as I possibly could while getting ready for the observing night!”
Comet McNaught will continue to be visible from the southern hemisphere but is expected to fade rapidly as its distance from both the Sun and Earth increases. By the end of January it will be low in the southern sky but likely still visible to the naked eye.