A Suicidal Comet
Comets pass near the Sun all the time. We rarely see them since they are frequently small and they are up in the middle of the day since they are close to the Sun in the sky.
Occasionally, one catches our attention. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has been up there looking at the Sun since 1995 and seen thousands of these comets. Yesterday it saw a good one. Click the picture to animate it.
The comet doesn’t re-emerge on the other side! It probably didn’t “crash” into the Sun in the classic sense of the word. Comets are primarily made of ice and this was a small comet so it would have melted long before it hit the surface of the Sun. We see the nice tail form as bits of the comet break off as it melts.
This comet is probably part of what is known as the Kreutz family of comets. Kreutz Comets are sungrazing comets. Based on their orbits, we have a lot of evidence that they all came from a large comet that passed near the Sun and broke up into small pieces a few thousand years ago (based on the number of pieces and their orbits, we can work backwards to get an approximate time frame). SOHO has seen many of these comets over the years.
Comets are cool…watching their last pass of the Sun is spectacular!
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