Space is full of awe and wonder. Every time scientists come even close to knowing a fact or phenomenon, they discovered they’ve barely etched a line in the sand. So much is still unknown, or not understood, even today.
However, with advancements in technology, we are finding new things every day. A phenomenon spotted recently would never be known in the past, with the rudimentary space-viewing equipment.
A sungrazing comet was recently spotted and subsequently posted to the official handle of NASA- something Galileo might not have witnessed when he used his telescope to discover the stars and the vast space beyond.
The post features a dark video which is slightly blurred due to being zoomed-in. In a black background spotted with white (probably stars), a small ball of white light floats by, running through the screen in seconds. It’s actually a GIF and not a whole video.
The caption illustrates how this comet is actually an accidental discovery. The Parker Solar Probe was launched in 2018 and designed to study the Sun- the atmosphere, the winds, and the corona. However, to everyone’s surprise, it ended up capturing this ‘sungrazing’ comet; one that flies too close to the sun.
#ParkerSolarProbe’s camera is designed to image the solar wind & the Sun’s wispy outer atmosphere, the corona. But a recent batch of data also showed a sungrazing comet for the first time, confirming the mission can also study these hard-to-see comets. ☄️ https://t.co/sziQl3i2BS pic.twitter.com/C1ofn7tkSQ— NASA Sun & Space (@NASASun) November 4, 2020
These comets are very bright and small, they are so close to the sun that they cannot be spotted from Earth, save from the SOHO or NASA‘s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. The observatory, however, did not make the discovery this time.
The Parker probe has something called the WISPR equipment (Wide-Field Imager for Solar Probe). The agency believes now that this discovery proves WISPR’s abilities and may help shine some light into these sun-approaching comets that remain a mystery.
But the sungrazers are like the leads of Shakespearean Romance-tragedies. In their close approach to the sun, they end up destroying themselves. NASA reported that this comet, too, was disintegrated by the sun’s heat when it flew too close to the sun; like Icarus.
But the silver lining is still the knowledge that Parker might help study these comets as it has the advantage of being near them. By being out in space, it’s automatically nearer to the events there as compared to observatories on Earth. Though it had spotted a comet earlier in 2020 as well, this is the first time a sungrazer has been captured so vividly.