What happens when a frozen icy comet meets the fiery inferno of the Sun? Sadly for the comet, there’s only one outcome – and it's not a happy ending.
Earlier this week, NASA and ESA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) captured the moment a comet was destroyed by the Sun. The comet was traveling at almost 2.1 million kilometers (1.3 million miles) per hour, but was instantly vaporized when it swung past the star.
This comet was part of a family called the Kreutz sungrazers. These are a group of objects that broke up from a much larger comet centuries ago. Some travel as far away as four times the distance of Pluto from the Sun, before swinging back in for a close flyby of our Solar System’s star. On occasion, though, some like this comet are not fortunate enough to survive the flyby.
SOHO is positioned between Earth and the Sun, and is used to continuously monitor our star. One of its instruments, its coronagraph, does this by creating an artificial eclipse of the Sun in order to observe its corona. This is what we’re seeing here; the Sun is blocked out by the large circle, with the star being denoted by the white circle in the middle.
This comet, which was only first spotted on August 1, didn’t actually hit the Sun, but was instead torn apart as it passed extremely close. In fact, it’s actually extremely hard to fall directly into the Sun, as this video from MinutePhysics explains.
Below you can watch the demise of the comet in all its glory. Farewell, dear friend.