Amazing Photo of Green Comet Lovejoy Captured by Dark Energy Camera

The 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera in Chile captured this photo of Comet Lovejoy on Dec. 27, 2014.
The 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera in Chile captured this photo of Comet Lovejoy on Dec. 27, 2014. (Image credit: Fermilab’s Marty Murphy, Nikolay Kuropatkin, Huan Lin and Brian Yanny)

The world's most powerful digital camera caught an amazing glimpse of Comet Lovejoy when it passed in front of the sensitive field of view.

The "accidental observation" of Comet Lovejoy on Dec. 27 shows the comet's nucleus and coma splayed across several frames the camera took. At the time, Lovejoy was 51 million miles (82 million kilometers) from Earth. Ordinarily, the Dark Energy Camera looks at far more distant objects; it can image things up to eight billion miles (12.8 billion kilometers) away.

"Our favorite [memory] all was the accidental observation of Comet Lovejoy," wrote the blog Dark Energy Detectives (a blog of the Dark Energy Survey) of the sighting. "It reminds us that before we can look out beyond our galaxy to the far reaches of the universe, we need to watch out for celestial objects that are much closer to home."

The image was captured while astronomers were scanning the southern sky for the five-year Dark Energy Survey, which aims to learn more about dark energy, the mysterious force that is accelerating the universe's expansion.

The camera is 570 megapixels and is designed to look for lights from galaxies and stars far away from Earth. Its field of view is about 2.2 degrees, equivalent to an area of sky 20 times the size of the moon seen from Earth. 

Lovejoy appears to glow green in telescope views of amateur astronomers, who have captured numerous images and video of the comet since its discovery. 

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: