Kamikaze comet (May 30, 2008)
A bright comet plunged toward the Sun, overheated, and disintegrated as observed by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) C2 coronagraph (May 23, 2008). This is one of the clearest and brightest comets that SOHO has seen dive into the Sun. The comet was a member of the Kreutz sungrazer family, named after a 19th century German astronomer who studied them in detail. Kreutz sungrazers are fragments from the breakup of a giant comet at least 2000 years ago. Many of these fragments pass by the Sun and disintegrate. Most are too small to see, but occasionally a big comet like this one comes by. (The Sun is represented by the white circle and the red disk is the occulting disk that we use to block out the immediate area around the Sun so we can see fainter structures in the surrounding corona.)
Even though a coronal mass ejection (CME) does occur just as the comet approaches the Sun, this has to be a coincidence. There is no known mechanism for an extremely tiny object like a comet (compared the huge mass of the Sun) to trigger a magnetic explosion on the Sun, especially across a distance like an estimated million km.
Follow this link to see the same comet as observed by STEREO's (Ahead) coronagraph. This spacecraft is about 30 degrees ahead of and slightly inside of Earth's orbit.
SOHO began its Weekly Pick some time after sending a weekly image or video clip to the American Museum of Natural History (Rose Center) in New York City. There, the SOHO Weekly Pick is displayed with some annotations on a large plasma display.
If your institution would also like to receive the same Weekly Pick from us for display (usually in Photoshop or QuickTime format), please send your inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org.