Comet Seen Vaporizing in Sun's Atmosphere—A First
NASA craft tracks last moments of a death-diving comet.
More than a thousand known comets are so-called Kreutz sungrazers, a family of icy bodies that pass very near to the sun's surface on their orbits through the solar system.
(Related: "'Suicide' Comet Storm Hits Sun—Bigger Sun-Kisser Coming?")
Using NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), astronomers are able to spot many of these sungrazers as they get close to our star.
That's because SOHO carries a key instrument that has an occulting disk, a circle that blocks out the glare of the sun's main body so scientists can study the star's faint upper atmosphere, or corona.
So far, most of SOHO's documented sungrazer deaths involved comets breaking up at a distance or simply vanishing behind the occulting disk.
"Some of them made it