(Courtesy of SOHO/EIT consortium)
Like a moth drawn to a flame…
…the comet seen above heads straight for the biggest and brightest light around: our sun.
Exactly one week ago (12 March 2010) a sungrazing comet that had circled the sun many times before came too close to Earth’s giant solar energy source and was vaporized. The Solar & Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) captured the phenomenon of the brightest comet seen in three years as it plunged into the sun.
Almost as interesting is the large coronal mass ejection (CME) that erupts as the ill-fated comet heads towards the sun. SOHO scientists believe this comet is part of the Kreutz family — comets with orbits that take them close to the Sun and are possibly derived from one very large comet that broke apart hundreds of years ago.
SOHO was launched on December 2, 1995.
The SOHO spacecraft was built in Europe by an industry team led by prime contractor Matra Marconi Space (now EADS Astrium) under overall management by ESA. The twelve instruments on board SOHO were provided by European and American scientists. Nine of the international instrument consortia are led by European Principal Investigators (PI’s), three by PI’s from the US. Large engineering teams and more than 200 co-investigators from many institutions supported the PI’s in the development of the instruments and in the preparation of their operations and data analysis.
NASA was responsible for the launch and is now responsible for mission operations. Large radio dishes around the world which form NASA’s Deep Space Network are used for data downlink and commanding. Mission control is based at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.