By the time you finish reading this news item, the solar system could have one less comet. Yesterday, Dec. 7th, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spotted a comet diving toward the sun. Today, Dec. 8th, it is vaporizing furiously in the solar corona:
The comet is a member of the Kreutz family–fragments from the breakup of a single giant comet many centuries ago. They get their name from 19th century German astronomer Heinrich Kreutz, who studied them in detail. Several Kreutz fragments pass by the sun and disintegrate every day. Most, measuring less than a few meters across, are too small to see, but occasionally a bigger fragment like this one (~10 m to 50 m) attracts attention.
The comet was first noticed in SOHO images by Polish amateur astronomer Szymon Liwo. Judging from the latest SOHO images, his discovery won’t last much longer. In fact, the comet’s nucleus may have already disintegrated, leaving only a disembodied tail.
Because of their common parentage, sungrazers often come in clusters. For this reason, it wouldn’t be surprising to find yet another one in the offing. Monitor Karl Battam’s Sungrazing Comet twitter feed for more sightings.