What happens when you put a snowball in front of an open fireplace? It melts. What happens when you throw a comet at the Sun? Erm… it doesn’t end well. In fact, as this daredevil comet proves, comets get vapourized very quickly. And the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) captured the whole event, here’s a video.
Sungrazing comets are spotted fairly regularly and this particular comet spotted over the weekend is likely a member of the Kreutz sungrazer family. This group of comets are thought to have been spawned when a giant comet broke up over 2000 years ago. However, the larger Kreutz fragments usually make a close approach to the Sun 3 or 4 times a year, but there have been 3 such events in 2010 so far.
As noted by Spaceweather.com, this could just be a statistical anomaly, but it could be that these fragments are a part of a swarm of comets approaching perihelion (closest approach to the Sun).
Either way, if you’re a comet, don’t venture too close to the Sun, you might get eaten.
Yesterday, NASA announced exciting news about a discovery made by a NASA mission that did a cosmic dance with comet Wild 2 back in 2004.The Stardust mission managed to scoop an amino acid called glycine from the comets dusty tail, thereby proving it’s not just asteroids that contain this critical ingredient for life.
“It’s not a particularly unexpected discovery that glycine is in a comet — we’ve found amino acids in meteorites before — but it does show that comets are another way that amino acids could have come to Earth,” lead researcher Jamie Elsila, with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told Irene Klotz from Discovery News.
Elsila and colleagues are responsible for developing a technique to extract and study the deposits of glycine from the aluminium foil that lined the probe’s collection plates. They confirmed the glycine was in fact of extraterrestrial origin (rather than contamination here on Earth), as the carbon atoms in the glycine molecules had an extra neutron in the nucleus. This means the glycine was formed in space.
“We see in this comet that amino acids were forming at the earliest time in our solar system,” Mike Zolensky, a comet dust researcher from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said.
Zolensky suspects that heat from the radioactive decay of short-lived particles melted a piece of comet ice laced with organic compounds and water. This may have allowed the cosmic amino acid to form.
Now that an amino acid has been scraped off the collection plate of the Stardust mission, it would appear the building blocks for life are widely available throughout the Solar System (assuming comet Wild 2 isn’t a special case). Asteroids contain amino acids, as do meteorites, now it looks as if comets carry the building blocks for life too. This means early-Earth certainly had plenty of opportunities to acquire extra-terrestrial sources of amino acids…
“The jet-black mark is near Jupiter’s south pole (south is up in the image). I have imagery of that same location from two nights earlier without the impact mark, so this is a very recent event. The material has already begun to spread out in a fan shape on one side, and should be rapidly pulled apart by the fast jetstream winds.” — Anthony Wesley
Although this was all very exciting, and conjured up memories from the Shoemaker-Levy 9 Jupiter impact in 1994 (as documented by Hubble), I think the majority of blogs and news websites were initially reluctant to proclaim that this new dark spot was the site of an impact by a comet or asteroid. Why? Well, these events aren’t supposed to happen very often. That’s why the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact was termed “a once in a lifetime” event.
But, 15 years later (a dog’s lifetime, perhaps), it’s been confirmed by JPL (pending an official release) that the dark patch is in fact an impact site, and not some crazy weather system:
Glenn Orton from JPL has imaged this site using the NASA Infrared Telescope on Hawaii and confirms that it is an impact site and not a localised weather event. — Update by Anthony Wesley
UPDATE (14:00 PST):Sky & Telescope Magazine is tracking developments, and reports that Leigh Fletcher, a scientist at the InfraRed Telescope Facility in Hawaii, is tweeting his findings from analysis of the Jupiter impact site. From the high infrared emissions in reflected sunlight off the dark spot, it is almost conclusive that the spot was caused by an impact by a comet or asteroid.
“This has all the hallmarks of SL-9 in 1994 (15 years to the day!). High altitude particulates, looks nothing like weather phenom.” —@LeighFletcher
The most astounding thing for me is that this impact was initially observed by an amateur astronomer, and not a space agency. We await further word from Glenn Orton at JPL and Leigh Fletcher at Hawaii, but all indications suggest this black patch IS another impact crater…
Just when I was getting bored of the endless stream of 2012 doomsday hype (tripe), my interest was suddenly reinvigorated when I saw this advertisement:
2012 Calendar Magnet
$2.99 + shipping
Our calendar magnet is a real 2012 calendar. So you can have it on the refrigerator for 3 1/2 years! The calendar magnet is 4.25 inches wide and 5.5 inches long. It is also very clear and easy to read (looks better than the picture above, but is smaller). The shipping cost within the U.S. is $0.79 and for International orders $1.89.
No way. Oh yes. Yes, they did! The most well-known 2012 protagonist website is selling doomsday fridge magnets depicting an Earth plus comet barrelling towards it.