NASA Observes Comet Diving into Sun: a Cosmic Death Run [Video]

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In an extraordinarily beautiful display, a nameless comet was observed diving straight into the sun, during what can only be described as a cosmic death run. The tiny comet was captured by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), jointly operated by NASA and the European Space Agency.

The magical moment was captured and presented as a video, Monday, August 19, as the sun-bound comet hurtled towards our scorching star. The video actually comprises a series of SOHO snapshots, taken as the comet trailed through space.

It is speculated that the, now-deceased, comet belongs to the Kreutz sungrazer group of comets. These comets are derived from the same source, and broke off as smaller fragments from a much larger comet, some centuries ago. They were named after a German astronomer, called Heinrich Kreutz, who uncovered their mysterious origins.

Karl Battams, working for the Naval Research Laboratory, detailed Spaceweather.com on the fate of the suicidal comet:

“With a diameter of perhaps a few tens of meters, this comet was clearly far too small to survive the intense bombardment of solar radiation.”

Kreutz sungrazers follow a very close elliptical orbit around the Sun, at perihelion. A number of these Kreutz fragments disintegrate, on a daily basis, when passing around the Sun.

This latest cosmic death run comes just before comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) is due to make an appearance, which is currently being observed by NASA’s Comet ISON Observation Campaign. Although ISON is not technically a member of the Kreutz family, it is described as a sungrazer. ISON, on the other hand, is due to survive its passage and will not take a dramatic nosedive into our Sun.

Comet ISON Taken by NASA and ESAAccording to Space.com, astronomers are predicting comet ISON to put on quite the display, as it materializes within the Earth’s skyline. Based upon the sungrazer’s size, it is likely that ISON will become visible even during the daytime. As the comet comes within close proximity to the sun, the extreme intensity of the solar rays will cause its heating, which will manifest as a bright object seen from Earth.

Many have dubbed comet ISON as the “comet of the century,” in anticipation of its imminent arrival. Unfortunately, reports from astronomers and stargazers seem to suggest it may have started to fizzle out already, well in advance of its November display. ISON had briefly disappeared from direct view, as it was obscured by the sun’s glare. When the icy mass later remerged, however, the force of its brightness was somewhat diminished. This perhaps indicates the main body of the comet (the nucleus) has reduced in size.

On the other hand, the unidentified comet, which recently dove headlong into our star did put on a good show, and may serve as some recompense for ISON’s potentially disappointing show.

From the video, collected by NASA and the European Space Agency, the comet can be seen entering from the lower right, just before it dives into the Sun; the sungrazer’s tail is clearly seen, projecting outward over considerable distance, as the comet’s collection of rock, ice and dust burn near the scorching hot surface of the sun. The beautiful burst of vibrant blue tones was the result of a coronal mass ejection (CME), as the sun cast off plumes of particulate; although, this CME was unrelated to the comet’s disintegration. Few of these small Kreutz fragments survive the cosmic death run of the perihelion passage, and are often never observed again.

By: James Fenner

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9 Responses to "NASA Observes Comet Diving into Sun: a Cosmic Death Run [Video]"

  1. Rachael   August 23, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Note: comet enters from lower /right/ in final video.

    Reply
    • James Fenner   August 23, 2013 at 9:43 am

      Thanks Rachael. It’s been sorted.

      Reply
  2. Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON)   August 23, 2013 at 9:23 am

    Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) Facebook Page – http://www.facebook.com/C2012S1

    Reply
    • James Fenner   August 23, 2013 at 9:47 am

      Hi guys. I’ve searched through the Internet, looking for clues on the subject of whether CMEs are related to these events. Most sites seem to indicate their is no relationship between the two. However, I personally find it strange that these emissions occur so frequently when a comet wraps around our sun (or is disintegrated by it). From what I can gather, it doesn’t always happen, but it is very, very common. My search continues, however!

      Reply
  3. john   August 23, 2013 at 5:41 am

    What effect does a comet diving into tthe Sun have on the Earth and Sun.. Would be minimal but some effect I guess.

    Reply
  4. Donald Sinclaire   August 22, 2013 at 10:44 am

    Was it really just a cosmic coincidence that the CME shot off as soon as the comet came that close? No chance of gravitation pulls or anything contributing? And how big was the comet?

    Reply
    • James Fenner   August 22, 2013 at 11:41 am

      I have to admit, I was surprised myself to find that the CME was completely unrelated to the comet. Although, my sources suggest it was “probably” unrelated, and that there is no known mechanism for comets to induce solar flares. The name and size of the comet was unknown, but most Kreutz sungrazers are only tens of meters in diameter.

      Thanks for reading Donald!

      Reply

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