It’s rare that such different objects are imaged so close together. Such an occasion is occurring now, though, and was captured two days ago in combined parallel exposures from the Canary Islands of Spain. On the lower right, surrounded by a green coma and emanating an unusually split blue ion tail diagonally across the frame, is Comet C/2013 X1 (PanSTARRS). This giant snowball has been falling toward our Sun and brightening since its discovery in 2013. Although Comet PannSTARRS is a picturesque target for long-duration exposures of astrophotography, it is expected to be only barely visible to the unaided eye when it reaches its peak brightness in the next month.
On the upper left, surrounded by red-glowing gas, is the also-picturesque Helix Nebula. At 700 light years distant, the Helix is not only much further away than the comet, but is expected to retain its appearance for thousands of years.
A comet has brightened quickly and unexpectedly. Discovered last year, Comet C/2014 Q1 (PanSTARRS) is expected to be visible now for a few days to the unaided eye, just after sunset, from some locations. The comet rounded the Sun on July 6 and apparently has shed quite a bit of gas and dust. Today it is now as close as it will ever get to the Earth, which is another factor in its recent great apparent brightness and the large angular extent of its tails.
In the featured image taken two days ago, Comet PanSTARRS is seen sporting a short white dust tail fading to the right, and a long blue ion tail pointing away from the recently set Sun. A crescent moon dominates the image center. Tomorrow, Comet PannSTARRS will pass only 7 degrees away from a bright Jupiter, with even brighter Venus nearby. Due to its proximity to the Sun, the comet and its tails may best be seen in the sunset din with binoculars or cameras using long-duration exposures.