Comet Defies Death, Brushes Up To Sun And Lives

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A small comet survived what astronomers figured would be a sure death when it danced uncomfortably close to the broiling sun.

Comet Lovejoy, which was only discovered a couple of weeks ago, was supposed to melt Thursday night when it came close to where temperatures hit several million degrees. Astronomers had tracked 2,000 other sun-grazing comets make the same suicidal trip. None had ever survived.

But astronomers watching live with NASA telescopes first saw the sun's corona wiggle as Lovejoy went close to the sun. They were then shocked when a bright spot emerged on the sun's other side. Lovejoy lived.

"I was delighted when I saw it go into the sun and I was astounded when I saw something re-emerge," said U.S. Navy solar researcher Karl Battams.

Lovejoy didn't exactly come out of its hellish adventure unscathed. Only 10 percent of the comet - which was probably millions of tons - survived the encounter, said W. Dean Pesnell, project scientist for NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which tracked Lovejoy's death-defying plunge.

And the comet lost something pretty important: its tail.

"It looks like the tail broke off and is stuck" in the sun's magnetic field, Pesnell said.

Comets circle the sun and sometimes get too close. Lovejoy came within 75,000 miles of the sun's surface, Battams said. For a small object often described as a dirty snowball comprised of ice and dust, that brush with the sun should have been fatal.

Astronomers say it probably didn't melt completely because the comet was larger than they thought.

The frozen comet was evaporating as it made the trip toward the sun, "just like you're sweating on a hot day," Pesnell said.

"It's like an ice cube going by a barbecue grill," he said.

Pesnell said the comet, although only discovered at the end of November by an Australian observer, probably is related to a comet that came by Earth on the way to the sun in 1106.

As Comet Lovejoy makes its big circle through the solar system, it will be another 800 or 900 years before it nears the sun again, astronomers say.

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  • by ralphie Location: ahoskie on Dec 18, 2011 at 09:51 AM
    i came on to say I bet the comet actually gained mass by its close pass to the sun...then I saw the first two comments. I went to the video described- and no accidental taping was shown. They only spoke of folks seeing something...
  • by ME on Dec 17, 2011 at 04:09 PM
    Google Fox news accidently Records NY UFO Sihgting,You will se a very bright looking star(which it is not)with two or three stars on each side of it.I have watched this thing for three years now and it doesot travel the same path as other stars.Me an my kids have acutally watched this thing crews across the sky and just all of a sudden stop and then sit there following the same path of the stars.Google what I said and right now you will see this space craft almost straight above you toward very little south east of you.You can clearly see this with a 16 power scope I look at it with a 32 power and you can clearly see IT IS A HUGE SOLID OBJECT.WITN I urge to look up there.Your cameras are better than my 32 powers scopes.Leave a comment here if you want me to show you exactly where to look.I will gladly go to your office and point this thing out for you.BTW it does not stay here yearly.This is no joke and I can prove it!
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Dec 17, 2011 at 11:08 PM in reply to ME
      Oh yeah, I'm sure they'll be really anxious to unlock the door and let you in. lol
    • reply
      by ralphie on Dec 18, 2011 at 09:52 AM in reply to ME
      get an astronomy book, and learn how to identify where it is. That is to say- you can give an elevation and a direction for a specific time of day....
      • reply
        by ME on Dec 18, 2011 at 01:13 PM in reply to ralphie
        Thats just it Ralphie,it dont follow any certain path at all and how in they hell can I give an elevation?All I can say is I can show you better than I can tell you.I proved my point to several people around the area I live.They have never seen it before and dont know what the hell it is either.All I know is stars dont move like this thing does and it shows up when it wants to.
        • reply
          by Anonymous on Dec 19, 2011 at 04:33 AM in reply to ME
          I'm sorry and mean no offense, I believe in UFOs, but you don't even sound like you know what you're talking about.
    • reply
      by 44mag. on Dec 19, 2011 at 03:04 PM in reply to ME
      The object your eyeballing could possibly be a DEA helicopter,looking for your pot farm!!!

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