Last month, on May 10/11, a bright comet took the Final Plunge, dropping into the Sun. It either broke up and evaporated or actually impacted the Sun, because it wasn’t seen to reappear around the other side. Here’s the video, taken using NASA’s SOHO satellite:
Pretty cool! You can see the Sun erupting with a coronal mass ejection, too. It’s tempting to wonder if the two are related, but in fact the CME let go before the comet had even had a chance to interact with the Sun’s magnetic field (CMEs are essentially magnetic events). I know there are tracts floating around the ‘net about comets causing solar events, but the folks promulgating such ideas never do any actual statistics. They see a comet plunge into the Sun, see a flare or CME, and say they’re related. However, you have to look at how many events happen without comets nearby, and more importantly how many comets hit the Sun and don’t spark an event. Without that, you’re just cherry-picking.
Incidentally, you may have noticed a very short horizontal line going right through the heart of the comet. That’s not real; it’s an artifact of the detector on SOHO. It’s called blooming, and it has nothing to do with Planet X unless you’re willing to turn your back firmly on reality.
Anyway, comets hit the Sun quite often; many have similar orbits and are called Kreutz family comets. It’s funny: many of them get bright enough to technically be seen by the eye, but they’re so close to the Sun they still get washed out.
Actually, now that I think about it, I should mention that SOHO is the greatest comet finder of all time; over 2000 comets have been seen in SOHO images! It seems funny to look to the Sun to find comets, but it’s also amazing to me to think that those 2000 comets have been seen in only 16 years since SOHO’s launch… think about how many comets are out there, in deep space. Millions. Billions. More.
We live in an amazing place, and in an amazing time that we can discover so much about it.
Science! I love this stuff.