A comet dives to its death into an erupting sun: Watch it here
A sun-grazing comet zoomed a little too close to an erupting sun this week, and you can watch its final moments, right here.
The comet, which is estimated to be less than 100 yards in diameter, did not survive its close encounter with the sun’s powerful radiation, and in the final frames of this very short film, the fairly small ice ball vaporizes into oblivion.
The images were captured the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), a space-based witness to hundreds of similar comet suicides.
Comets are made of ice and dust, and need to be quite large to survive a close pass with the sun’s atmosphere, according to NASA. The heat from the sun is a danger to their survival, as is the sun’s powerful gravity that can break a comet’s nucleus apart.
In the video above, you can spot the comet entering the frame on the right, about one-fourth of the way up from the bottom. It appears to grow fainter as it nears the solar disk, which has been blotted out in this image to allow scientists to get a better look at the activity in its atmosphere.
To add to the drama, a flash of light erupts around the disk as the comet moves toward the sun. That light is caused by an explosion on the far side of the sun that resulted in a coronal mass ejection.
The comet approached the sun about the same time as the mass ejection, sending immense amounts of solar material hurtling through space, but the timing was just a coincidence.
The comet is probably a member of the Kreutz sun-grazer family, according to SpaceWeather.com. This is a class of comets discovered more than 100 years ago by the German astronomer Heinrich Kreutz. Scientists believe these comets, which always come from the same direction among the stars, are probably fragments of a much larger comet that may have broken up centuries ago.