When you’re a comet, there are some thing you just shouldn’t do if you plan to live a long, icy life. Number one on the list: Don’t fly into the sun.
But comets aren’t sentient beings that can distinguish what will save them and what will kill them. Comets can’t read and have therefore never learned the lessons bestowed upon us by the Greek myth of Icarus and the sun. And that’s why one unwitting ball of ice and rock that got too close to the sun managed to feel the brunt ferocity of the center of our solar system.
Between August 3 and 4, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory — jointly run by NASA and the European Space Agency — managed to capture the sight of a bright Kreutz (sungrazing) comet zooming carelessly into our sun. As happens with pretty much anything that gets close to the sun, the comet disintegrated due to the high amount of heat emanating from the star, as well as the immense gravitational forces that cause Earth and the seven other main planets of the solar system to orbit around it.
Comets commonly orbit the sun at elliptical orbits. When they whip around the sun (this guy was cruising at a sweet 1.3 million mph), they tend to lose a lot of material. In this instance, the comet didn’t simply shoot straight into the sun, but rather was torn apart as it veered too closely.
This new observation comes at a perfect time: NASA is currently doing status assessments for its heliophysics missions in the next couple of years, and the new instruments that will be sent into space are sure to pick up crazier things than this.