Comet heads toward Sun

Added by on September 13, 2011

A sungrazer comet (in red circle) approaches the Sun - it is expected to disintegrate on September 14, after reaching first magnitude

A fragment of a comet that broke up centuries ago was discovered on Tuesday as it got dragged toward the Sun.

The comet fragment, called a Kreutz Sungrazer, was discovered earlier today by comet hunters Michal Kusiak of Poland and Sergei Schmalz of Germany. The fragment is expected to disintegrate on September 14, as it gets closer to the Sun.

Comet disintegrates as it approaches the Sun on Sept 14 (08:06 UTC)

Update (Sept 14): The comet disintegrated as it approached the sun.

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is tracking the comet, which may also brighten to reach a magnitude 1 before it disintegrates. First magnitude objects are considered to be the brightest, and sixth magnitude is the lower limit of visual perception without the help of a telescope.

The SOHO, launched in 1995, has an uninterrupted view of the Sun since it is positioned 1.5m km from the Earth between the Earth and Sun. SOHO has an array of 12 instruments on it.

In other news, sunspot AR1295 is generating a number of flares that feature coronal mass ejections (CME). A CME can release billions of tons of matter at several million kilometres per hour. The sunspot is not facing Earth now so the CMEs do not affect us, yet the sunspot may turn towards Earth within a few days.

Another sunspot caused a geomagnetic storm last week.

Photo credits: NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)