Comet 96P/Machholz is passing by the Sun today deep inside the orbit of Mercury. At closest approach, it will be less than 0.13 AU from the solar surface. Comet 96P/Machholz is a short-period comet, completing an orbit around the Sun every 5.24-years.
Comet Machholz is making its fourth appearance in the LASCO C3 data. It will be visible in SOHO coronagraphs until July 17th. Comet 96P/Machholz has passed through the SOHO/LASCO C3 images three times now. It was also seen by our SECCHI HI1A instrument on STEREO satellite in 2007. Coronographs are using a disk to block the Sun’s bright surface, revealing the faint solar corona, stars, planets and sungrazing comets. In other words, it produces an artificial solar eclipse. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has two coronagraphs onboard,LASCO C2 and LASCO C3.
C2 coronagraph images are colored red; C3 coronagraph images are blue.
There is something mysterious about this comet. It is the only known short-period comet with both high orbital inclination and high eccentricity. Machholz 1 was found to be both carbon-depleted and cyanogen-depleted, a chemical composition nearly unique among comets with known compositions. Many researchers suspect 96P/Machholz is not a native of our solar system; some chemical evidence suggests it came from another star.
96P/Machholz’s orbit appears to be dynamically related to a diverse collection of other objects in the solar system including asteroid 2003 EH1 and the Quadrantid, Southern Delta Aquariid, and daytime Arietid meteoroid streams. All of these bodies might be fragments of a single body from outer space that broke apart thousands of years ago.
Karl Battams explains on Sungrazing Comets website, that Jupiter is over 300 times more massive than the Earth, exerting a strong gravitational influence over passing comets and asteroids. It means that Jupiter’s gravitational pull is largely responsible for the variation we see in the Machholz complex.
Video bellow shows Comet Machholz in the LASCO C3 camera back in 2002, its second appearance in the data. Venus is visible on the video also.
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