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A Comet’s Close Call

Scientists predicted that Comet Lovejoy would collide with the Sun

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In this image from December 15, 2011, Comet Lovejoy appeared to be headed towards sure destruction in a collision with the Sun (credit: NASA/SOHO)

Amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy of Australia discovered a comet in 2007 using nothing more than a digital camera. Comet Lovejoy was a large member of the Kreutz family of comets–fragments of a large comet that broke up hundreds of years ago but still travel in its path, grazing the surface of the Sun and sometimes colliding with it. And yesterday it looked like Comet Lovejoy would meet such a fiery end.

But that didn’t happen.

Despite scientists’ predictions that the comet would not survive its encounter with the Sun, Comet Lovejoy lives on. The Associated Press reports:

The comet came within 75,000 miles of the sun. For a small object often described as a dirty snowball, that brush with the sun should have been fatal.

Astronomers say it probably wasn’t deadly because the comet was larger than they thought.

Comet Lovejoy’s near-fatal journey was well-watched by scientists who have a fleet of satellites pointed at our Sun. You can watch the comet streak through the Sun’s atmosphere in the video below, taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or see the comet’s path around the Sun in the animated gif (below the video), created with images from the NASA satellite SOHO.

Comet Lovejoy survived its close encounter with the Sun (credit: NASA/SOHO)

About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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