New, bright Kreutz sungrazing comet plunges into Sun

New, bright Kreutz sungrazing comet plunges into Sun

A new, bright Kreutz 'sungrazing' comet was discovered on September 26, 2017.

The comet appeared in SOHO LASCO C3 imagery around 03:06 UTC on September 26 and finished its journey around 09:00 UTC on September 27. It was recorded by both LASCO C3 and C2 coronagraphs.

"Despite appearances, this comet did not hit the Sun. It vaporized well before reaching that point," astrophysicist Karl Batams said.

Kreutz sungrazers are 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 be seen, but occasionally a big fragment like this one attracts attention.

Sungrazing comets have been observed for many hundreds of years. In the late 1880's and early 1890's, Kreutz studied the possible sungrazing comets which had been observed until then and determined that some were sungrazers and some were not.

He also found that those which were indeed sungrazers all followed the same orbit. That is, they were all fragments of a single comet which had broken up. It is probable that the original comet, and its fragments, have broken up repeatedly as they orbit the Sun with a period of about 800 years. In honor of his work, this group of comets is named the Kreutz sungrazers.

Featured image: Bright Kreutz sungrazing comet approaching the Sun on September 27, 2017. Credit: ESA/NASA SOHO LASCO C2, C3; NASA/SDO AIA 304

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