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LASCO C3 image taken on 16 April 2002 at 17:18
Science & Exploration

Watch a comet passing near the Sun

17/04/2002 866 views 0 likes
ESA / Science & Exploration / Space Science / Space sensations

Most of the comets usually observed by ESA's SOHO spacecraft quickly burn up in the Sun's hot atmosphere. On 20 April 2002, the newly found Comet SOHO-422 did not, but here you see its progress.

Like most of the hundreds of comets found with the ESA-NASA Sun-watching spacecraft, SOHO-422 was first noticed by an amateur astronomer. Pictures from SOHO are made available, freely and rapidly, on the Internet. People all around the world look especially at images from the LASCO C3 instrument, which covers the widest region of space, hoping for the honour of winning the race to spot the next incoming comet.

In this case, XingMing Zhou of China was the sharp-eyed discoverer of what is officially designated as Comet 2002 G3 (SOHO). An animation of successive images of the comet (see link) shows it entering from the bottom left and following a curved track upwards. It passed behind a pillar that holds the mask blocking direct sunlight.

On 17 April 2002, the comet made its closest approach to the Sun. In the next few days it continued upwards and to the right before moving out of the field of view.

Caution: This comet was visible only with SOHO's special equipment. Never try to see sun-grazing comets by looking at the Sun yourself - the brightness will damage your eyes!

SOHO is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA. The spacecraft was built in Europe for ESA, equipped with instruments by teams of scientists in Europe and the United States, and launched by NASA in December 1995.