Friday, January 13, 2012

Some Comets like it Hot

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Jan. 12, 2012: Comets are icy and fragile. They spend most of their time orbiting through the dark outskirts of the solar system safe from destructive rays of intense sunlight.  The deepest cold is their natural habitat.
Last November amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy discovered a different kind of comet.  The icy fuzzball he spotted in the sky over his backyard observatory in Australia was heading almost directly for the sun.  On Dec. 16th, less than three weeks after he found it, Comet Lovejoy would swoop through the sun’s atmosphere only 120,000 km above the stellar surface.
Astronomers soon realized a startling fact: Comet Lovejoy likes it hot.
"Terry found a sungrazer," says Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC.  "We figured its nucleus was about as wide as two football fields—the biggest such comet in nearly 40 years.”
Hot Comet (beauty shot, 558px)
Comet Lovejoy at sunrise on Dec. 25, 2011. Wayne England took the picture from Poocher Swamp, west of Bordertown, South Australia. [more]



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