Watch: The Sun Obliterate a Doomed Comet


Ever read the story of Icarus? In Greek mythology, he was the guy who ignored his father's advice and flew too close to the sun on wings made of feathers and wax. Bad stuff ensued. Some comets, called sungrazing comets also take that risk, coming within 850,000 miles (nearly 1.4 million kilometers) of this flaming orb. And, although this sungrazer didn't survive its brush with "death" — most don't — some spectacular images were captured.

On Aug. 3, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) detected a comet plunging toward the sun at nearly 1.3 million miles (2 million kilometers) per hour. As the press release puts it, "This comet didn't fall into the sun, but rather whipped around it — or at least, it would have if it had survived its journey. Like most sungrazing comets, this comet was torn apart and vaporized by the intense forces near the sun."

Comets are chunks of mostly ice and dust — call them space debris — that orbit the sun, usually on elliptical tracks that take them far beyond Pluto's orbit. This comet, which was first detected on Aug. 1, is part the Kreutz family of comets, which broke off from a huge comet about 800 years earlier.

The white circle in this video represents the sun, and there's an amazing coronal mass ejection (a kind of solar explosion) shown on the sun's left side.

In December 2015, SOHO celebrated 20 years in space. According to NASA, this spacecraft has revolutionized the field of heliophysics (the study of the sun's effect on the solar system), providing the basis for more than 5,000 scientific papers. It also unexpectedly has become the greatest comet-hunter of all time, with more than 3,000 comets discoveries so far.