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Astronomer Spots Rare, Recently Discovered Comet During Total Solar Eclipse in December

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An astronomer has spotted a little tiny speck flying past the Sun which is a recently discovered rare comet, as the world witnessed the total solar eclipse this month.

An astronomer has spotted a little tiny speck flying past the Sun which is a recently discovered rare comet, as the world witnessed the total solar eclipse this month.

This comet was first spotted in satellite data by Thai amateur astronomer Worachate Boonplod on the NASA-funded Sungrazer Project, as Chile and Argentina witnessed the total solar eclipse on December 14, reports NASA.

Around the time the eclipse image was taken, the comet was travelling at roughly 7,24,205 kms per hour, about 4.3 million kms from the Sun’s surface.

The comet was around 50 feet in diameter — about the length of a semi truck. It then disintegrated to dust particles due to intense solar radiation, a few hours before reaching its closest point to the Sun.

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Sungrazer is a citizen science project that invites anyone to search for and discover new comets in images from the joint European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO.

Boonplod discovered the comet a day before the eclipse.

“He knew the eclipse was coming, and was eager to see whether his new comet discovery might appear in the Sun’s outer atmosphere as a small speck in eclipse photographs," the US space agency said in a statement late on Saturday.

The comet, named C/2020 X3 (SOHO) by the Minor Planet Center, is a “Kreutz" sungrazer.

This family of comets originated from a large parent comet that broke up into smaller fragments well over a thousand years ago and continues to orbit around the Sun today.

Kreutz sungrazing comets are most commonly found in SOHO images.

To date, 4,108 comets have been discovered in SOHO images, with this comet being the 3,524th Kreutz sungrazer spotted, according to NASA.

A solar eclipse that lasted around two minutes plunged southern Chile and Argentina into darkness last week. Despite restrictions on movement imposed by authorities to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, almost 300,000 tourists had arrived in the Araucania region around 800-kilometers (500 miles) south of the capital Santiago.

Dozens of amateur and professional scientists set up telescopes on the slopes of the Villarrica volcano — one of the most active in Chile — to observe the phenomenon when the moon passes between the sun and Earth.

The eclipse was due to be visible along a 90-kilometer wide corridor from the Pacific coast in Chile across the Andes mountain range and into Argentina.

(With inputs from IANS)

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