ESA’s and NASA’ Soho telescope captured a comet’s final seconds the exact moment the space snowball got close enough to the Sun to be vaporized by the tremendous forces around it. The event was reported on Aug. 3-4.
Reportedly the space rock was racing past the Sun at 1.3 million miles per hour. Researchers said that the comet didn’t plunge into the star, as it was churned to death long before that.
The comet is also known as a ‘sungrazer’ or a space body that passes within 850,000 miles from the fiery ball of gas which leads to its sure demise. In the video released by NASA the sun is represented by a white circle (see video below).
The unlucky comet was first detected on Aug. 1. NASA scientists identified it as a Kreutz family comet which had a common ancestor a few centuries ago. Comets usually don’t come as close to the Sun. Most of them have elongated orbits that lead them way beyond the orbit of Pluto.
Before Soho was launched in 2014, space observatories were able to capture about a dozen comets, when ground telescope had already spotted about 900.
Soho has detected other similar objects described as ‘dirty snowballs’ racing at mind-numbing speeds towards the sun during their final dives. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, aka Soho, has also discovered three new types of comet groups. Its goal is to keep an eye on the Sun and the space between our planet and the Sun.
Additionally, Soho measures the output of solar radiation, solar winds, and coronal mass ejections which are gigantic explosions of gas. Since its launch, the space observatory helped scientists gain new insights on our planet’s parent star.
The telescope’s ability to capture comets in great detail was, however, a pleasant surprise for many researchers. Soho is especially good at spotting sungrazers since it keeps a constant watch of the sun and its surroundings, scientists said.
Soho mission investigator Joe Gurman explained that the space observatory can spot remote objects that are located 12 billion-and-half miles from the sun. This is why scientists had predicted that the telescope would capture some sungrazers as well, but no one knew that in reality it would spot about 200 per year.
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