Comet Corpses in the Solar WindJan. 20, 2012: A paper published in today's issue of Science raises an intriguing new possibility for astronomers: unearthing comet corpses in the solar wind. The new research is based on dramatic images of a comet disintegrating in the sun's atmosphere last July.
Comet Lovejoy grabbed headlines in Dec. 2011 when it plunged into the sun's atmosphere and emerged again relatively intact. But it was not the first comet to graze the sun. Last summer a smaller comet took the same trip with sharply different results. Comet C/2011 N3 (SOHO) was completely destroyed on July 6, 2011, when it swooped 100,000 km above the stellar surface. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) recorded the disintegration.
Comet C/2011 N3 fragments as it passes through the sun's atmosphere on July 6, 2011. Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory/K. Schrijver et al [larger image]
Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director,
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