Comet Lovejoy hurtled through the sun's corona Thursday, and astounded skywatchers by coming out the other side. Here's how Comet Lovejoy survived.
A newfound comet defied long odds today (Dec. 15), surviving a suicidal dive through the sun's hellishly hot atmosphere, according to NASA scientists.
Comet Lovejoy plunged through the sun's corona at about 7 p.m. EST today (midnight GMT on Dec. 16), coming within 87,000 miles (140,000 kilometers) of our star's surface. Temperatures in the corona can reach 2 million degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 million degrees Celsius), so most researchers expected the icy wanderer to be completely destroyed.
But Lovejoy proved to be made of tough stuff. A video taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft showed the icy object emerging from behind the sun and zipping back off into space.
"Breaking News! Lovejoy lives! The comet Lovejoy has survived its journey around the sun to reemerge on the other side," SDO researchers tweeted today.
SDO is one of many instruments that scientists — eager to record and study the comet's presumed demise — trained on Lovejoy as it streaked toward the sun.
"We have here an exceptionally rare opportunity to observe the complete vaporization of a relatively large comet, and we have approximately 18 instruments on five different satellites that are trying to do just that," Karl Battams, a scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., wrote on the Sungrazing Comets website today, before Lovejoy's closest solar approach.
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