Top Ten Space Pictures of 2007

Top Ten Space Photos of 2007
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10. Superbright Comet Sweeps Across Southern Skies
(originally posted January 18, 2007)

Going blind isn't usually a worry when watching for comets passing near Earth. But that's what astronomers said could happen if people weren't careful as they scanned the skies for a glimpse of comet McNaught earlier this year.

The comet was visible in mid-January in the Southern Hemisphere near the horizon at dawn and dusk. It passed close to the sun, so observers were cautioned not to accidentally gaze directly at the rising or setting star.

The comet was touted as the brightest in 40 years, prompting crowds of hopeful amateurs to train their eyes on the sky. This photo of the fiery apparitiontaken on January 18, as the comet appeared through a gap in the clouds above Christchurch, New Zealandis among our most popular space pictures in the news for 2007.

Australian astronomer Robert McNaught first discovered the comet last August using a telescope at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. The celestial body's orbit brought it close to the sun in early January, making the comet visible to the naked eye in the Northern Hemisphere.

Comet McNaught then had its nearest brush with the sun and became visible only to Southern Hemisphere sky-watchers. At the time this image was snapped, the 6.2-mile-wide (10-kilometer-wide) comet was about 74.5 million miles (120 million kilometers) away from Earth and traveling at nearly 62 miles (100 kilometers) a second.

Victoria Gilman

(Top space pictures determined by number of times viewed.)

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—Photograph by Simon Baker/Reuters
 
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