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"Suicide" Comet Storm Hits Sun—Bigger Sun-Kisser Coming?
National Geographic News ^ | January 17, 2011 | Andrew Fazekas

Posted on 01/20/2011 5:39:20 AM PST by Red Badger

A recent storm of small comets that pelted the sun could herald the coming a much bigger icy visitor, astronomers say.

Since its launch in 1995, NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, orbiter has captured pictures of 2,000 comets as they've flown past the sun.

Most of these comets are so-called sungrazers, relatively tiny comets whose orbits bring them so near the sun that they are often vaporized within hours of discovery. (See a picture of a sungrazer spied in October.)

The sun-watching telescope usually picks up one sungrazer every few days. But between December 13 and 22, SOHO saw more than two dozen sungrazers appear and disintegrate.

Seeing "25 comets in just ten days, that's unprecedented," Karl Battams, of the United States Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. "It was crazy!"

According to Battams and colleagues, the comet swarm could be forerunner fragments from a much larger parent comet that may be headed along a similar path. And such a large icy body coming so near the sun would result in a spectacular sky show.

Sun-Kissing Comet "Granddaddy" on the Way?

Despite becoming a leading comet hunter, SOHO was initially designed to study the sun. For example, one camera on the probe uses a device called a coronagraph to block out the main body of the sun so that it can see fainter features in the star's upper atmosphere.

(Related: "Sun Erupts—Epic Blast Seen by NASA Solar Observatory." With video)

As it happens, this setup also allows SOHO to spot tiny, house-size comets taking their death plunges.

Over the years, the number of sungrazing comets detected by SOHO has increased, from 69 in 1997 to 200 in 2010.

Even after accounting for more participation from comet hunters and efforts to optimize images for comet-spotting, the numbers appear to show a significant increase in sungrazers, the astronomers say.

(Related: "Weird Asteroid Really a Crusty Old Comet?")

And the recent flurry of kamikaze comets may be pieces from a larger body similar to the Ikeya-Seki comet of 1965, Battams and colleagues say.

The granddaddy of all sungrazing comets, the three-mile-wide (five-kilometer-wide) core of Ikeya-Seki swept within 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) of the solar surface.

Rather than vaporizing, the large comet survived its close encounter and whipped around the sun, becoming so bright in Earth's sky that, for a time, it was visible during the day.

Since there were no space-based solar probes at the time, no one knows whether that event was preceded by a storm of smaller comets.

Comet Storm Remnants of a Broken Body?

But according to comet hunter David Levy, the coming of a large sungrazer is just speculation for now. Comets in general are quite fragile and break apart easily, so this comet storm may simply be the last gasp of a bigger body that no longer exists, he said.

"Most of the comets that SOHO has discovered have been rather small and are probably little fragments that have spilt off of much larger comets that had previous encounters with the sun," said Levy, co-discoverer of the famous Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet that hit Jupiter in 1994.

(Related: "Third Jupiter Fireball Spotted—Sky-Watching Army Needed?")

Comet expert Don Yeomans, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, agrees.

"I would be surprised if there really is a larger object waiting to come in and take center stage and these smaller objects are its precursers," Yeomans said. "It's more likely these could be the remnants of a much larger object that broke up and is no longer with us."

The only way to know for sure, Yeomans said, is to watch and see if the rate of increase in sungrazers continues, which he admits would be "pretty amazing and unusual."

He also warns that if there is another Ikeya-Seki barreling toward the sun, sky-watchers shouldn't hold their collective breath. After all, if you trace the orbital paths of the comet storm, any parent body would be coming from the farthest reaches of the solar system.

"We are talking about long waiting periods" until such a comet neared the sun, he said, "possibly anywhere upward of thousands to millions of years."


TOPICS: Miscellaneous; News/Current Events; Technical
KEYWORDS: astronomy; catastrophism; comet; solar; space; xplanets
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The sun-kissing comet Ikeya-Seki, as it appeared in the dawn sky in 1965.

Photograph by Victor R. Boswell, Jr., National Geographic

Go to article for more links...........

1 posted on 01/20/2011 5:39:28 AM PST by Red Badger
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To: Red Badger
Bigger Sun-Kisser Coming?

sometime around 12/21/2012??

2 posted on 01/20/2011 5:43:28 AM PST by Vaquero (BHO....'The Pretenda from Kenya')
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To: Vaquero

You’ll have to ask George Lucas..............


3 posted on 01/20/2011 5:44:24 AM PST by Red Badger (Whenever these vermin call you an 'idiot', you can be sure that you are doing something right.)
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To: Red Badger
Seeing "25 comets in just ten days, that's unprecedented," Karl Battams, of the United States Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. "It was crazy!"

Er, they've only had the scope up since 1995. You would need centuries or millenia or even mega-years of data before you could determine what is "unprecedented" or "crazy".

4 posted on 01/20/2011 5:45:56 AM PST by Seruzawa (If you agree with the French raise your hand - If you are French raise both hands.)
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To: Red Badger

What ever happened to our FRiend who posted the “Astronomy Picture Of The Day”?


5 posted on 01/20/2011 5:51:41 AM PST by gigster
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To: Red Badger
You’ll have to ask George Lucas..............

he's tied up


6 posted on 01/20/2011 5:53:44 AM PST by Vaquero (BHO....'The Pretenda from Kenya')
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To: gigster

I think he may have gone off into the heavens.............


7 posted on 01/20/2011 5:54:00 AM PST by Red Badger (Whenever these vermin call you an 'idiot', you can be sure that you are doing something right.)
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To: Seruzawa
Yes and we get the same kind of “Unprecedented” statements about global warming and Holes in the Ozone layer.

All of these statements are a bunch of hog wash because the insignificant amount of data available.

But because a scientist says it the press picks it up and writes about it like it is profound. NO questioning permitted it is “the consensus of scientific truth”.

Your not a “denier” are you?

8 posted on 01/20/2011 6:04:02 AM PST by Pontiac
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To: Pontiac

Proud “denier” since forever.


9 posted on 01/20/2011 6:25:28 AM PST by Seruzawa (If you agree with the French raise your hand - If you are French raise both hands.)
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To: Pontiac

Comets lose mass every time they pass the sun.
If the solar system is “billions” of years old,
why are there still comets?

There’s been no observation of any “comet factory” on the edge of the solar system.


10 posted on 01/20/2011 6:27:39 AM PST by MrB (The difference between a (de)humanist and a Satanist is that the latter knows who he's working for.)
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To: gigster; sig226

FReeper sig226 got disgusted with some of the stupidity and viciousness thrown around FR back in Sept. and said “Good-Bye.”

IMO, it was FR’s loss.


11 posted on 01/20/2011 6:30:07 AM PST by Roccus
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To: SunkenCiv; The Comedian

Ping


12 posted on 01/20/2011 6:35:32 AM PST by Silentgypsy
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To: MrB
There's no “comet factory,” but there is a “comet bank” called the Kuiper belt out beyond the gas giants.
13 posted on 01/20/2011 6:39:26 AM PST by VanShuyten ("a shadow...draped nobly in the folds of a gorgeous eloquence.")
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To: gigster
What ever happened to our FRiend who posted the “Astronomy Picture Of The Day”?

Don't know. But you can go right to the source here.

http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/archivepix.html

14 posted on 01/20/2011 6:42:31 AM PST by Cheburashka (Democratic Underground - the Hogwarts of Stupid.)
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To: MrB
There’s been no observation of any “comet factory” on the edge of the solar system.

http://nineplanets.org/kboc.html

15 posted on 01/20/2011 6:45:55 AM PST by Cheburashka (Democratic Underground - the Hogwarts of Stupid.)
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To: VanShuyten

Kuiper belt and “Oort” cloud are hypothetical “rescuing devices” for the problem.
A few hundred KBO’s have been actually been observed,
but in order to be the source of short period comets,
there would have to be billions of observable ice balls out there.


16 posted on 01/20/2011 6:46:12 AM PST by MrB (The difference between a (de)humanist and a Satanist is that the latter knows who he's working for.)
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To: MrB

“There’s been no observation of any “comet factory” on the edge of the solar system.”

http://www.universetoday.com/32522/oort-cloud/


17 posted on 01/20/2011 7:25:06 AM PST by eCSMaster (My memory's not as sharp as it used to be. Also, my memory's not as sharp as it used to be.)
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To: eCSMaster

Again, a proposed, hypothetical rescuing device.
Basically, this thing HAS to exist (though we haven’t observed it) in order to account for the problem of short period comets and billions of years.


18 posted on 01/20/2011 7:27:15 AM PST by MrB (The difference between a (de)humanist and a Satanist is that the latter knows who he's working for.)
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To: SunkenCiv; CJ Wolf; houeto; Quix; null and void; B4Ranch; Whenifhow; Silentgypsy; FromLori; ...
Snowball's-chance ping.

(Thanks for the ping Silentgypsy!)

"Space Energy/Solar Weirdness" ping.


Ping list dealing with odd space phenomena and solar events.

FReepmail me if you want on or off

The Comedian's "Space Energy/Solar Weirdness" ping list...


Frowning takes 68 muscles.
Smiling takes 6.
Pulling this trigger takes 2.
I'm lazy.

19 posted on 01/20/2011 7:51:56 AM PST by The Comedian ("Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" - B. Goldwater)
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To: The Comedian

SOUNDS LIKE more

“SIGNS IN THE HEAVENS”

of the END TIMES

to me.

Didn’t happen the first 50 years of my life anything like they have the last 10 years.


20 posted on 01/20/2011 7:57:31 AM PST by Quix (Times are a changin' INSURE you have believed in your heart & confessed Jesus as Lord Come NtheFlesh)
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