cometc-2012k1ps

An artist’s depiction of a comet flying through the inner solar system


NASA/SOFIA/Lynette Cook

Space is so vast that it can be hard for a little comet to get noticed. In the case of one tiny Kreutz sungrazer, it was seen for the first time just before plunging headlong into the sun to be promptly vaporized

Karl Battams, who runs NASA’s Sungrazing Comets Project at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC, shared the news via Twitter on Monday that the first new comet discovered in 2020 is already gone. Battams also shared some footage of its last moments from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, aka SOHO.

Kreutz sungrazers are a family of comets leftover from one massive comet that fragmented into hundreds of smaller bits centuries ago. A number of the mini-comets are spotted each year.

“It’s actually quite unusual that it has taken 13 days for SOHO to find a comet,” Battams told Spaceweather.com. “This is the furthest we’ve gone into a new calendar year without a discovery since 2008.”

The yet-to-be-named comet (it might never get one now that it’s gone) was noticed in the SOHO images by an amateur comet hunter in Thailand named Worachate Boonplod.

While this bold, nameless comet may be gone, there could soon be others to follow in its coma trail. In fact, Battams says it’s likely that the second new comet of 2020 will also be a Kreutz sungrazer.