October 21, 2019

Astronomy Video of the Week: Celebrating SOHO’s 3,000th Comet

There it is: SOHO’s 3,000th comet.

Image credit: NASA/SOHO

Has it really been that long? The joint NASA/European Space Agency’s Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) celebrates two full decades in space in just a few short weeks. Launched on December 2nd, 1995, the mission keeps a continual watch on the Sun from its L1 vantage point.

SOHO also passed another amazing milestone recently, with the discovery of its 3,000 sungrazing comet. Engineers didn’t design SOHO to catch comets, but it has gone on to become the most prolific comet hunter of all time.

Want to see what 3,000 sungrazing comets looks like? Check out this amazing video:

The simulation demonstrates the path of each and every comet seen by SOHO during its 20 year span. Astronomer Karl Battams at the U.S. Naval Research Lab compiled the video, and continues to record every new SOHO comet discovery. SOHO sees these sun-diving comets via its LASCO C3 camera, which affords it a 15 degree-wide field of view. With a central occulting disk masking the glare of the Sun, SOHO also catches the dance of the planets as they drift in and out of view.

Most of these comet discoveries are the result of dedicated amateurs, who patiently comb through images from SOHO, looking for faint fuzzies moving in a characteristic fashion. In fact SOHO has given us enough information on the Kreutz family of sungrazing comets that we can characterize their orbits. Just think, prior to 1995, only a handful of these comets had been seen, as an entire population of tiny comets drifted right by, largely unnoticed.

Congrats to SOHO on 3,000 comets!

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  1. [...] is also a champion comet hunter, recently topping an amazing 3000 comets and counting. Though it wasn’t designed to hunt for [...]

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