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Comet Lovejoy spotted plunging toward fiery doom

Space ice-lump to melt away above the far side of the Sun

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The comet Lovejoy has been snapped by ESA and NASA's SOHO spacecraft merrily continuing on its path to obliteration in the Earth's sun.

Comet Lovejoy plunging towards the Sun

Comet Lovejoy plunging towards the Sun. Credit: SOHO/LASCO (ESA/NASA)

Lovejoy, first spotted on December 2, is on a course to plunge destructively towards, but not quite into, the Sun later on today, as its icy body disintegrates in the Sun's heat.

The comet will pass around 140,000 km above the solar surface, where it will be unable to withstand the temperatures.

Comets are, as a rule, loosely collated collections of ice and rocks that are prone to disintegration at any time, but Lovejoy is making sure of its demise by throwing itself into the furnace of the Sun's heat.

The timely end of the comet will not be visible from Earth, because it will take place at the far side of our star.

Lovejoy comes from the Kreutz group of comets, believed to be the fragments of a much larger comet that broke up centuries ago.

Other Kreutz comets have had bright futures ahead of them, in fact, very bright, with comet Ikeya-Seki becoming so bright in 1965 that it was visible even in the daytime sky.

Poor Lovejoy will not reach these dizzy heights before its immolation, but it's still reckoned to be quite bright, and was actually first discovered by a ground-based telescope.

"On average, new Kreutz-group comets are discovered every few days by SOHO, but from the ground they are much rarer to see or discover,” said Karl Battams of the Naval Research Laboratory. "This is the first ground-based discovery of a Kreutz-group comet in 40 years." ®

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