Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Comet Encounters The Sun

The solar system has one less comet. The subtraction occurred yesterday when a bright comet discovered by NASA's STEREO-A spacecraft plunged toward the sun and evaporated. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) had an excellent view of the encounter. The doomed comet was a member of the Kreutz sungrazer family.
Named after a 19th century German astronomer who studied them in detail, Kreutz sungrazers are fragments from the breakup of a giant comet at least 2000 years ago. Several of these fragments pass by the sun and disintegrate every day. Most are too small to see. The comet was found on Jan. 2nd by Australian amateur astronomer Alan Watson, who was inspecting images obtained by STEREO-A's Heliospheric Imager on Dec. 30, 2009.