The brightest comet of the year has been a little tricky to spot with the human eye down on Earth, but ESA and NASA's Solar Orbiter spacecraft got an excellent view. ESA released a movie on Tuesday showing Comet Leonard --- nicknamed the "Christmas comet" -- zipping along in space.
There's more than just the comet -- which is half a mile wide and made of rock, dust and ice -- on display. The Milky Way makes for a sparkling backdrop and Venus and Mercury appear in the upper right-hand corner (Venus is the brighter one).
The Solar Orbiter Heliospheric Imager (SoloHi) instrument on the spacecraft delivered the images that went into the video. "When SoloHi recorded these images, the comet was approximately between the sun and the spacecraft, with its gas and dust tails pointing towards the spacecraft," ESA said in statement. The footage tracks the comet from Dec. 17-19.
Solar Orbiter launched in 2020 to kick off a 10-year journey to study the sun and image our star's polar regions for the first time. The spacecraft will continue to monitor Leonard through Dec. 22.
The comet is heading toward a close pass of the sun and its fate is uncertain, which makes Solar Orbiter's action shots all the more poignant. Said ESA of the Christmas-time comet, "If it doesn't disintegrate, its trajectory will fling it into interstellar space, never to return."