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Watch: Sun-Diving Comet and Solar Explosion

Credit: SOHO/NASA
In these time-lapse images from a sun-monitoring satellite, a massive cloud of charged particles is hurled off the sun this week only hours before a tiny comet makes a death dive towards the sun. Credit: Spaceweather.com

A tiny comet’s spectacular death dive into the sun has been captured by cameras aboard NASA’s SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory)  sun-monitoring satellite this week.

In the early hours of Tuesday, August 20, a comet estimated to be only a few tens of meters across made the kamikaze dive and did not seem to survive its fiery encounter. (See also Comet Seen Vaporizing in Sun’s Atmosphere—A First)

If you look at the lower right corner of the last few frames in the above movie, which was created from individual snapshots from SOHO, you can watch the icy interloper quickly vaporize while producing a thin-long trail behind it as it plunges into the sun.

As an unexpected bonus, in the final moments before the comet hits the sun, a cloud of charged particles known as a coronal mass ejection (CME) is flung off the solar surface. Astronomers don’t think the the cloud and comet collided since the CME originated on the far-side of the sun and the comet was in the foreground. Also there is no evidence to suggest the two cosmic events are connected.

According to the Spaceweather.com website, this comet belongs to family of sun-divers known as ‘Kreutz sungrazers’, which astronomers believe are tiny fragments of a much larger comet that broke up centuries ago.

Well over 1,500 of these suicidal sungrazers have been reported in just the last 15 years, with most just disintegrating from the heat of the sun.

Nearly two years ago, comet Lovejoy managed to survive its encounter with the sun as it skimmed through the outer solar atmosphere.

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.

Comments

  1. Lipe Carmel
    Brazil SSA-BA
    September 7, 2013, 9:04 am

    Cynthia Cosby, I think that you might want to know that UFO means: Unknown Flying Object, taking that in count, yes, you saw an UFO.

  2. Cynthia Cosby
    Laurel MD
    August 26, 2013, 5:21 pm

    I believe I saw debree from this impact. On Friday August 23, 2013@ 9:00pm EST. My friend and I saw6 to 8 bright looking lights or flares of fire floating in the sky. We were able to catch video with our camera. It was the weirdest thing. It totally freaked us out. We thought it was aliens or UFOs until the news reported a comet hitting the sun. I want to know if these two things are in relations. I will be happy to share video