Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2009 March 22
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
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Credit: LASCO, SOHO Consortium, NRL, ESA, NASA

Explanation: The Sun destroyed this comet. Arcing toward a fiery fate, this Sungrazer comet was recorded by the SOHO spacecraft's Large Angle Spectrometric COronagraph(LASCO) on 1996 Dec. 23. LASCO uses an occulting disk, partially visible at the lower right, to block out the otherwise overwhelming solar disk allowing it to image the inner 5 million miles of the relatively faint corona. The comet is seen as its coma enters the bright equatorial solar wind region (oriented vertically). Spots and blemishes on the image are background stars and camera streaks caused by charged particles. Positioned in space to continuously observe the Sun, SOHO has now been used to discover over 1,500 comets, including numerous sungrazers. Based on their orbits, they are believed to belong to a family of comets created by successive break ups from a single large parent comet which passed very near the Sun in the twelfth century. The Great Comet of 1965, Ikeya-Seki, was also a member of the Sungrazer family, coming within about 650,000 kilometers of the Sun's surface. Passing so close to the Sun, Sungrazers are subjected to destructive tidal forces along with intense solar heat. This comet, known as SOHO 6, did not survive.

Tomorrow's picture: magellanic seahorse

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