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Comet's death dive captured by satellite

The comet is the white streak in the lower right of this image.
The comet is the white streak in the lower right of this image.  

(CNN) -- A comet plunged into the sun on Tuesday and its death dive was captured by a sun-watching satellite.

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft orbits about 1 million miles from Earth. Its mission is to monitor the sun.

Scientists theorize that comets that buzz the sun are fragments of a huge comet, perhaps one spotted by ancient Greek astronomers. It's believed that the comet broke apart, producing a family of comets that astronomers call "sungrazers."

Flying toward the sun isn't a healthy move for comets, which are made up of ice and dust. Scientists say only the biggest comets can survive the blast of heat from the sun as they fly by.

The image of the comet's death dive snapped by SOHO was created with an instrument called the Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronograph, or LASCO. The device creates an artificial eclipse, basically blotting out the brightest part of the sun so researchers can study the corona, or atmosphere.

Comet spotting is nothing new for SOHO. In its six years in service, the satellite has spotted more than 365 comets, according to NASA. Scientists say that makes it the most prolific comet finder in the history of astronomy.

SOHO is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency.


• SOHO: The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory

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