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Lovejoy Comet Lives Through Brush with Sun’s Corona

by Shane McGlaun
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Comets are cool, both literally and figuratively. They are generally made of frozen gases and other stuff. I can remember years and years ago when a particularly bright one was in the sky, and looking at it each morning on the way to work. An amateur astronomer from Australia named Terry Lovejoy recently discovered a new comet that was subsequently named after him.

The Lovejoy comet was on a path that many in the scientific community thought would mean the end of the comet. The comet was headed on a journey that would take it right through the corona of the sun. The scientists expected the comet to be vaporized. So scientists were shocked when the comet actually barreled through the corona and zipped right back into space.

Lovejoy was watched by the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory as it headed toward the sun. The SDO followed the path of the comet, expecting nothing but a dust trial to survive, but it appears to have emerged from the other side. It lost a significant amount of its mass, but part of the comet still made it through. Given the fact that the corona of the sun is estimated to reach a temperature of nearly 2 million degrees Farehnheit, that’s no small feat.

Prior to the fly-by, Lovejoy had a core that was 660-feet wide and is in a class of comets called “Kreutz sungrazers” because they orbit so close to the sun.

[via Space.com]

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