(ORDO NEWS) — Astronomers, using a complex of the world’s leading telescopes on earth and in space, have received images of the decay of a periodic rocky comet near the Sun.
This is the first time such a comet has been caught in the process of disintegrating, as they pass so close to the Sun that they are difficult to detect and study.
Most of them were discovered by chance during observations with solar telescopes. There are far fewer comets near the Sun than expected, indicating some kind of disruptive action occurring before the comets make their final plunge into the Sun.
A team of astronomers from Macau, USA, Germany, Taiwan and Canada observed the elusive circumsolar comet called 323P/SOHO with several telescopes.
323P/SOHO’s orbit was slightly restricted, so the team didn’t know where to look, but Subaru’s wide field of view allowed them to cast a wide net and find the comet as it approached the Sun.
This was the first time that 323P/SOHO had been imaged with a ground-based telescope. With this data, the researchers were able to better determine the orbit, they knew where to point other telescopes, and they waited for 323P / SOHO to start moving away from the Sun again.
To their surprise, the scientists found that 323P/SOHO changed dramatically during its close pass of the Sun. In the Subaru telescope data, 323P/SOHO was just a dot, but in subsequent data it had a long cometary tail of ejected dust.
The researchers believe that intense radiation from the Sun caused parts of the comet to break off in a thermal breakdown similar to how ice cubes crack when boiling water is poured over them.
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