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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