The end is definitely near… for comet Lovejoy, at least. The bright sungrazing comet was discovered on December 2, 2011, by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy using a ground-based telescope. It was quickly seen that the comet was on a doomsday dive toward the Sun and will not likely survive its close pass of our home star during the next several hours.
UPDATE: Lovejoy Lives! The comet re-emerged from the other side of the Sun after passing behind it tonight… this is one tough little traveler! See its revival here.
Lovejoy (designated C/2011 W3) first came within view of ESA’s SOHO orbiting solar observatory on Dec. 12. Since then its final journey has been observed as it gets ever closer to the Sun. The image above is a still from the latest video update, which can be seen here. (The Sun is located behind the blue disc, its actual size is denoted by the white circle.)
Many comets have been discovered ending their million-year-journeys around the solar system with a dive into the Sun, thanks to SOHO, but Lovejoy may be the brightest sungrazing comet seen yet!
The comet itself is estimated to be around 300 feet (100 m) wide.