With Geminid meteor shower, total lunar eclipse next week we are facing another event. Sungrazing comet C/2011 W3 heading toward Sun. Perihelion will come on December 16th at a point just 0.005652 astronomical unit from the Sun's center or about 186,200 km (116,000 miles) from the searing solar surface. Right now comet C/2011 W3 is about 11th magnitude, putting it within telescopic range of far-southern visual observers.
C/2011 W3 belongs to Kreutz sungrazer family. This is the first discovery of sungrazer from the ground since 1970! Most of the sungrazers are spotted by SOHO which recorded 1100 comets passing near the Sun. It was discovered by Terry Lovejoy from his observatory in Thornlands, a suburb of Brisbane, Australia. "Comet Lovejoy" is another, more popular name for C/2011 W3 .
Cbet nr.2930, issued on 2011, December 02, announces the discovery of a new comet (discovery magnitude 13) by Terry Lovejoy on three CCD images obtained each on Nov. 27.7 and 29.7 UT with a Celestron 8 0.20-m f/2.1 Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector (+ QHY9 camera). The new comet has been designated C/2011 W3 (LOVEJOY).
M.P.E.C. 2011-X16 assignes the following preliminary orbital elements to comet C/2011 W3: T 2011 Dec. 15.99; e= 1.0; Peri. = 57.14; q = 0.005 AU; Incl.= 135.93
According to calculations derived from a Minor Planet (MPC) Circular, Comet Lovejoy trajectory should put it within view of the SOHO spacecraft's wide-angle (LASCO C3) coronograph on the 14th and its narrow-angle (LASCO C2) counterpart late on the 15th(look for it here), entering from the sou. It might first appear in the HI1 camera of STEREO-A, another orbiting sentinel, as early as the 12th. Extreme care is needed due to the comet's small solar elongation angle and close proximity to the Sun in the sky.
Comet Ikeya-Seki in 1965, was maybe the greatest sungrazer of the past century. Kreutz-comet Ikeya-Seki was so bright, it could be seen by the naked eye by blocking the Sun out with your hand. C/2011 W3 wont get this bright, it would be visible only through the SOHO, STEREO and Sungrazer websites as it would enter in field of view of space cameras around Dec 12, meeting its fiery demise late on Dec 15. (SOHO)
WATCH Comet Lovejoy:
IAU Minor Planet Center