Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Close encounter with comet

Comet Lovejoy over Cooks Beach. Photo / Jane Dove Juneau
Comet Lovejoy over Cooks Beach. Photo / Jane Dove Juneau

A comet which survived a close encounter with the sun can now be seen searing our skies in the early hours of the morning.

Comet Lovejoy came within 200,000km of the sun's surface three weeks ago, and was subjected to temperatures of several million degrees centigrade. Although 2000 similar comets on this orbit have melted, Lovejoy emerged from the sun's corona intact.

The comet lost its tail, but a 10th of it survived and it has developed a trail of dust and ice visible to the naked eye.

Photographer Jane Juneau took this picture of the comet from Cooks Beach in the Coromandel at 3.45am, using a slow exposure from a fixed camera.

"It was the first clear night in a while, bright and beautiful and I just experimented a bit. If you take too slow an exposure, it catches the stars moving as well, so this one was just right."

Stargazers wanting to see the comet should look east to southeast between 3am and 4.30am before January 5. Once Lovejoy disappears, it will not be seen in Earth's skies again for another 800 to 900 years.

- NZ Herald

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