December 18, 2011 by staff
Comet Lovejoy was supposed to melt on 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 were shocked when a bright spot emerged on the sun’s other side. Lovejoy lived.
The comet came within 75,000 miles of the sun. For a small object often described as a dirty snowball, that brush with the sun should have been fatal.
As a side note, 75,000 miles from the sun is smack in the middle of the hottest part of the solar corona, which is around 1 to 3 million K degrees hot. It is simply impossible for any ball of ice to survive that kind of heat.
Astronomers say it probably did not 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, project scientist for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory said.
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