It plunged into the sun, and survived. Space mavens from NASA scientists to legions of amateur astronomers were glued to their computer screens as spacecraft cameras caught what they thought would be Comet Lovejoy’s death plunge and watched, amazed, as it emerged from the sun’s atmosphere.
“It’s absolutely astounding,” said Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C., in a statement from NASA. “I did not think the comet’s icy core was big enough to survive plunging through the several million degree solar corona for close to an hour, but Comet Lovejoy is still with us.”
Five spacecraft recorded Lovejoy’s adventure, NASA said: NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and twin STEREO probes, Europe’s Proba2 microsatellite, and the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. The SDO caught video of the comet entering and emerging from the sun’s atmosphere. More movies and images are available at the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory.
It is the only one of about 2,000 so-called sun-grazing comets to survive the trip, the Associated Press reported, although only about 10 percent of Lovejoy did so. But it has 800 or 900 years to replenish as it travels in its elongated orbit through the solar system, the AP said. Maybe it can reclaim its tail, which apparently got stuck in the sun’s magnetic field, NASA scientists told the AP.