Allison McCann reports for Popular Mechanics on the visual trail of a comet as it approached the sun, vaporized, and finally disintegrated:
Sun-grazing comets are frustratingly elusive. As they approach the intense heat of the sun, these dirty snowballs turn to gas in a hurry and put on an impressive show before they disappear. But the intense solar radiation also makes the comet’s death extremely difficult to detect.
On July 6, 2011, solar physicist C.J. Schrijver of the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center and colleagues became the first to directly witness a comet falling within the solar corona, a sort of blazing-hot atmosphere that surrounds the sun. Labeled C/2011 N3 (SOHO), the comet is from the Kreutz family, the source of about 80 percent of the comets that pass so close to our star. The comet, moving at roughly 1.3 million miles per hour, was only visible to scientists for 20 minutes before vaporizing.
Schrijver and his colleagues describe their observations of the destructing comet in a study released in Science this week. A series of extreme ultraviolet (EUV) images captured by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) on NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) satellite enabled researchers to document the comet’s death plunge into the sun…
[continues at Popular Mechanics]