Here’s something fun. Just as we’re wondering and debating whether Comet ISON will hold together in one piece during a hair-raising solar encounter on Thanksgiving Day, another sungrazing comet appeared overnight in the pictures taken with the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory’s C3 coronagraph. Like a World War II kamikaze pilot, it’s headed straight toward the sun.
The visitor is a member of the Kreutz family (pronounced ‘Kroits’) of comets – a remnant of a much larger sungrazing comet that broke up into many smaller fragments long ago – and appears not to have survived the sun’s terrific heat. Most Kreutz sungrazers are only around 30 feet wide (10 meters) and fizz away into fine dust and gas when they get too close to the fire. SOHO comet spotters find a few dozen a year.
At top, you’re looking at the ‘final glory’ photo of the comet taken at 3 a.m. CDT today. The next frame (at right), made at 12:10 p.m., shows nothing. Bye, bye little guy.
ISON should fare better. With an icy nucleus measuring at least half a mile across, there’s a fair chance it will survive the battering and emerge reborn like Gandalf the White in Lord of the Rings, cloak aglow and renewed by a near brush with death.
And ready to give earthlings a fine show. The comet that is.