Space telescopes have watched as one of the brightest comets seen in years plunged to its doom into the Sun. The giant chunk of rock and ice grew a tail millions of miles long as it flared brilliantly during its final hours.
NASA’s Sun-monitoring space observatories Soho and STEREO A recorded the comet’s dying moments in photos that filtered out the Sun’s own brilliant glare. But it was too close to the Sun to be seen from Earth in a daylight sky.
The comet was thought to be one of the larger pieces produced by the break-up of a monster comet many centuries ago. Smaller fragments are often observed passing close to the Sun and are known as Kreutz sungrazers. They are named after Heinrich Kreutz, a German astronomer who studied them in detail in the 19th century.
Comet expert Karl Battams, of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC, tweeted: “This is one of the brightest Kreutz sungrazers we’ve seen over the past 21 years. Awesome!” He added that if there had been a total solar eclipse happening anywhere in the world, the comet would have been easily visible.
But the comet will have had as much impact as a fleabite on the Sun itself, becoming completely vaporised as it fell into our home star.