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Science Pictures of the Week: a shining trio in the sky, an unusual comet buzzes the Sun and a visit from the Polar Vortex

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Saturday, February 21, 2015, 7:00 PM - A shining, celestial trio in the sky, an unusual comet buzzes by the Sun, and what a visit from the polar vortex looks like, all on Science Pictures of the Week.

Venus, Mars and the Moon form a shining trio in the sky

Credit: Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn. Used with permission.

The clear, frigid early-evening sky was graced with a spectacular trio on Friday night, as Venus, Mars and the Moon gathered near the western horizon.

This image was taken by Weather Network meteorologist (and noted astrophotographer) Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn.

The Moon, captured as a thin, waxing crescent (and even giving us a view of the shaded part of its face), is fairly obvious. Venus is the bright, somewhat oddly-shaped 'star' to the left of the Moon ('oddly shaped' since it goes through phases, similar to the Moon, and is currently only nearly full). Dimmer Mars is visible above the two.

See more of Kerry-Ann's great work on her website, www.weatherandsky.com.

An Unusual Sun-grazing Comet

NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, a satellite that keeps an eye on solar activity, occasionally captures images of a comet passing unusually close to the Sun, and just this past week, from Feb 18-20, the satellite spotted one that's a little unusual.


According to NASA, the majority of comets spotted by SOHO are of the Kreutz family.

"Kreutz sungrazers are fragments from the breakup of a single giant comet many centuries ago," explains the NASA SOHO website.

This one is different though.

"It's a 'non-group comet,' meaning that it does not appear to be related to any other comet or comet family that we have on record," Karl Battams, of the Naval Research Lab, said in the latest SOHO Pick of the Week entry.

The comet can be seen in the video below, entering from the upper right, swinging past the Sun, and then moving off towards middle-left.

A Visit from the Polar Vortex

Image credits: earth.nullschool.net.

Move the slider back and forth to switch between views of our planet, showing two snapshots of the winds high above our planet's surface, spaced about two and a half weeks apart. 

In the January 31 image, the polar vortex is where it usually is, far north, mostly contained within the Arctic Circle.

Switch over to the February 18 view, though, and you can see why the eastern half of North America has been so cold lately.

Sources: Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn | NASA SOHO | earth.nullschool.net

RELATED VIDEO: The polar vortex may have gained some considerable notoriety as of January 2014, but it is far from just a media buzz-phrase. Below, Dr. Doug Gillham explains what the polar vortex is, and how it affects our weather.

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