Comet Lovejoy Survives A Close Encounter with the Sun

     

Comet Lovejoy Survives A Close Encounter with the Sun

Comet Lovejoy startled scientists by surviving its sun-grazing cruise around the Sun and back into space  on Dec. 15-16, 2011. This was the brightest sun-grazing comet ever observed by NASA spacecraft STEREO or SOHO.

This pair of still images taken by STEREO shows the comet and its extensive tail as it approaches the Sun, and then again as it is heading out into space with a much smaller tail. Note that the tail of the comet pointed away from the Sun, no matter which way it was headed, due to pressure from the solar wind.

Comet Lovejoy's survivability might be partly explained by the size of its core, an estimated 2 football fields wide, about 10 times larger than other Kreutz comets, the family of comets to which it belonged. It flew roughly 100,000 km above the surface of the Sun where temperatures are around 1 million degrees.

Image Number: WEB13416-2013
Credit: NASA
For print or commercial use, please contact: Smithsonian Institution
Reproductions are not currently available. If you would like to use this image as-is, please submit a permission request.