The Sun ate another comet

By Phil Plait | March 16, 2012 7:00 am

It’s tough to be a comet.

You spend most of the time — billions of years, really — out in deep space where it’s cold and dark. Of course, since you’re mostly made of ice, that’s not so bad. After all, the Sun is hot, and if you venture too close…

Well, you know what happens then. And such was the fate of Comet SWAN, discovered just a few days ago as it plunged headlong into the seething fires of the Sun. And I have video!

That was made from images taken by NASA’s SOHO satellite. In fact, the comet is named SWAN because it was first seen in the SOHO SWAN camera, designed to look for ultraviolet light coming from hydrogen. Here’s the thing: no comet has ever been seen before in that camera, including the phenomenally bright comet Lovejoy from a few months ago. But Lovejoy got incredibly bright overall, while this new comet never did brighten much. Comet SWAN must have undergone some sort of outburst to make it so bright and then fade again; that’s happened before.

Here’s another shot of it from SOHO:

[Click to enhalleyenate.]

Comets like these are called Kreutz family Sun grazers, a collective group of comets on similar orbits that take them very close to the Sun’s surface. Some survive, like Lovejoy did, and some… don’t.

The Sungrazing Comets site has lots more info on this weird comet and its untimely death. You can also follow SungrazerComets on Twitter for current news on these doomed chunks of ice.

Image credit: NASA/SOHO. Music in the video was "Heavy Interlude" by Kevin MacLeod, used under Creative Commons license from incompetech.com.


Related Posts:

- Amazing video of comet on a solar death dive
- The comet and the Coronal Mass Ejection
- Amateur astronomer discovers sungrazing comet
- One more Lovejoy time lapse… maybe the last

Comments (16)

Links to this Post

  1. Sun Eats Comet « Steve Fischer’s Random Blog | March 16, 2012
  1. It might just be the animation, but can you see the comet speed up right before it hits?

  2. Carey

    One less comet in the solar system is one less chance for planetwide extinction, I say.

  3. BAT

    Another coronal mass ejection just as it hits, another video for the fringe to use as “evidence” that the sun is being used by alien ships as a portal to another universe…

  4. Brian

    How big was this comet? It looks pretty large in comparison with the sun.

  5. dr_cy_coe

    Phil, for your next trick, can you tell us what the other ‘streak’ is just a few centimeters off to the right of SWAN?

  6. So the Sun farted and gobbled up a comet?

    You keep it classy, Sun.

  7. Bill

    @ BAT, I wasn’t sure whether that was another mass ejection or perhaps the vaporized remains of the comet. Is that also possible?

  8. andres

    Excuse me if this is an ignorant question, but why the coronal mass ejection come from the opposite side from where the comet plunged into the sun?

  9. ozprof

    Hi BA,

    Are you sure that “no comet has ever been seen before in that camera”? There have been several “comet Swan” in the past and I am sure that these have been discovered by the SOHO SWAN camera.

  10. Gary Ansorge

    9. andres

    If you watch the movie closely, you’ll see there were several ejections ongoing at that time, so another ME about the time the comet died is just a co-incidence,,,

    GAry 7

  11. Ok- so, how many comets would the sun have to eat per year to come up even in terms of H burned to H acquired, and how long could the sun get away with this before its mass became so great that it collapsed into a supernova and black hole, even it it hadn’t exhausted all that fuel?

  12. gameshowhost

    Noooo! Noooooooooooooooo

    /noooooo

  13. Wzrd1

    Comets check in, but they don’t check out. ;)

    We have a couple of CME’s inbound, they’re due late during the 18th, about 12 hours apart. One is a glancing blow, the other was a full halo (maybe the one observed in the video).

    @Jess Tauber, the sun could consume every comet in the solar system and not gain appreciable mass. The sun is big, comets aren’t that numerous or massive in comparison.

  14. andres

    Is not a comet just too tiny in comparison to the sun to provoke a coronal mass ejection?

  15. Coronal mass ejections sound like something a Santorum administration would like to prevent.

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