These two images, taken by the SOHO solar observatory spacecraft, show the last moments of a comet as it approaches the Sun in what turned out to be its final voyage…the Sun’s radiating energy sizzled the icy traveler shortly after. (See the video version on my earlier post.)
The two images were taken with different cameras aboard the ESA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, positioned between the Earth and the Sun in a stationary orbit. The cameras are attuned to different wavelengths of light as well as different angles of view. Blocking out the intensity of the Sun itself with discs on the lenses they are able to observe the details of the Sun’s corona, its outermost atmosphere. In this way not only do background stars become visible, but also planets (like Venus, its reflected glare seen above just below and right of the Sun) and comets too as they approach the Sun in their elliptical orbits. In fact, SOHO has become the best comet-detector ever….to date it has identified over 1500 comets while observing the Sun. Many of those, including the one above, are believed to be pieces left over from a much larger comet that broke apart hundreds of years ago.
Read more about the SOHO mission and comet discoveries here.
Images: SOHO (ESA & NASA)