Reminding us of our own fragile mortality, a large, bright comet just streaked across the sky and straight into our nearest neighbouring star. You will absolutely believe what happened next because it has happened to you in a nightmare, admit it.
Image: ESA/NASA/SOHO/Joy Ng
On August 3 and 4, the European Space Agency and NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory witnessed a Kreutz sungrazer comet plunge recklessly toward the 5500C ball of plasma that sustains you and everyone you love. The comet was soon torn apart by the intense heat and gravitational forces of the Sun, whose disk is represented by a white circle in the gif above.
Kreutz sungrazers are chunks of ice and rock that skirt incredibly close to the Sun during their approximately 800 year orbit. While tiny members of this cometary family are fried every day, it’s rare to see a big one go out in a blaze of glory like this. According to astronomer Karl Battams, last week’s Kreutz comet suicide was one of the brightest we’ve seen in decades, achieving a velocity of two million kilometres per hour before it was extinguished.
Here’s another lovely image of the event:
Very cool composite of the recent bright comet in LASCO C3! Credit: Barbara Thompson at NASA/GSFC. (Thx Barbara!!) pic.twitter.com/ExAqYBdgtV
— Karl Battams (@SungrazerComets) August 5, 2016
In case you were wondering, the sun is being blotted out by a coronagraph so that its light does not swamp out the action taking place around the periphery. At least, that’s NASA’s story. I’m pretty sure it’s to prevent us all from losing our minds.