Watch: Sun-Diving Comet and Solar Explosion

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:

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 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.

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Meet the Author
Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.