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Spacecraft catches view of comet being vaporized by the sun

The comet is believed to be part of the Kreutz family of comets, which pass the orbit of Pluto on the farthest points of their journey through the solar system.

By
Stephen Feller
A comet, thought to be part of the Kreutz family of comets, hurtles toward the sun at about 1.3 million miles per hour before being vaporized in the star's atmosphere. Image by ESA/NASA/SOHO/Joy Ng
A comet, thought to be part of the Kreutz family of comets, hurtles toward the sun at about 1.3 million miles per hour before being vaporized in the star's atmosphere. Image by ESA/NASA/SOHO/Joy Ng

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 (UPI) -- On Earth, the sun is an essential part of sustaining life, but for anything that gets too close to it? Not so much.

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, a satellite used to study the sun for more than 20 years, captured images of a comet getting too close to the star and being "torn apart and vaporized" as it passed earlier this week, according to a press release.

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The comet, part of the Kreutz family of comets, was spotted by SOHO on August 1 as it hurtled toward the sun, approaching on August 3 at a speed of about 1.3 million miles per hour. In the short, animated image, the comet can be seen flying from the right side toward the sun, at the center of the picture.

The Kreutz group of comets are believed to have broken off a much larger comet centuries ago and now maintain highly elliptical orbits that carry them past Pluto's orbit on their way through the solar system.

SOHO was launched by NASA and the European Space Agency in 1995 as a two-year mission to study the internal structure of the sun, its outer atmosphere and the origins of solar wind. Although expected to be used for two years, the satellite has continued to help scientists gather images and data about the sun for more than 20 years.

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