Unusual comet dive-bombs the sun
Astronomers are puzzling over a comet that passed “insanely close” to the sun on Feb. 19th. At first glance it appeared to be a small object, not much bigger than a comet-boulder, doomed to disintegrate in the fierce heat. Instead, it has emerged apparently intact and is actually brightening as it recedes from the sun. Click to view a post-flyby movie recorded on Feb. 20th by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO):
Unofficially, the icy visitor is being called “SOHO-2875,” because it is SOHO’s 2,875th comet discovery.
Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab explains what’s odd about SOHO-2875: “It’s a ‘non-group comet,’ meaning that it does not appear to be related to any other comet or comet family that we have on record.”
Most comets that SOHO sees belong to the Kreutz family. Kreutz sungrazers are fragments from the breakup of a single giant comet many centuries ago. They get their name from 19th century German astronomer Heinrich Kreutz, who studied them in detail. SOHO-2875, however, is not one of those fragments.
“Non-group comets like this appear a few times a year, so in that sense it’s nottoo unusual,” continues Battams. “But this one is relatively bright. The big question most people will have now is, Can I see it, or will I be able to see it, from Earth? At first I thought the answer was no. But I am very pleasantly surprised–shocked in fact! The comet has brightened dramatically and now is sporting an increasingly impressive tail. Visibility from Earth in a few weeks is no longer out of the question, although I still wouldn’t put money on it.”
“I’ll continue to tweet updates on my twitter.com/SungrazerComets feed, so folks can follow along there too.”