Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2021 December 23

Three Planets and a Comet

Image Credit & Copyright: Tunc Tezel (TWAN)

Explanation: Are you still looking for that perfect holiday gift for an astronomer? If your night sky is dark and horizon clear enough, the Solar System may have done your shopping for you. Send them outside after sunset to see three planets and a comet. In this snapshot of the December solstice evening sky from the village of Kirazli, Turkey the brightest celestial beacon is Venus, close to the southwestern horizon at the right. Look left and up to find Saturn shining between clouds. Follow that line farther left and up to bright Jupiter, the Solar System’s ruling gas giant. This year’s surprise visitor to the inner Solar System, Comet Leonard (C/2021 A1), is near the horizon too. The comet is fainter but forms a nearly equilateral triangle with planets Venus and Saturn in this view. After a dramatic brightening in recent days the comet is just visible to the unaided eye, though a nice pair of binoculars is always a good idea.

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