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Comet Plunges into the Sun

Comet Plunges into the Sun
A comet plunges into the Sun on Nov. 3, 2006.
(Image: © SOHO)

A comet made a death plunge into the Sun on Friday, disintegrating as its icy chemicals vaporized on the way in.

An animation showing the comet's plunge was made with images from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).

All comets orbit the Sun, and most do so on elongated paths that can pass through the inner solar system before winging out well beyond Pluto. Solar radiation heats a comet and burns off some of the ice and dust that it is made of, creating a cloud of material and sometimes a tail. The dust and gas scatter sunlight, making the comet bright.

Those comets that come very close to the Sun are called sungrazers.

A few get too close.

SOHO images have been used to discover more than 1,000 comets, and the craft has identified many comets in their dramatic final hours before being swallowed by the Sun.

Other comets discovered without SOHO, such as one named Kudo-Fujikawa, have at times been watched in real time by web surfers as they dramatically sliced across SOHO's field of view. In 2003, a comet named NEAT, whose path in front of the SOHO cameras was well predicted, was smacked by a solar storm, the first such event ever recorded.

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