A sungrazing comet is a comet that passes extremely close to the Sun at perihelion – sometimes within a few thousand kilometres of the Sun's surface. Although small sungrazers can completely evaporate during such a close approach to the Sun, larger sungrazers can survive many perihelion passages. However, the strong evaporation and tidal forces they experience often lead to their fragmentation.
Up until the 1880s, it was thought that all bright comets near the Sun were the repeated return of a single sungrazing comet. Then, German astronomer Heinrich Kreutz and American astronomer Daniel Kirkwood determined that, instead of the return of the same comet, each appearance was a different comet, but each were related to a group of comets that had separated from each other at an earlier passage near the Sun (at perihelion). km is likely to survive the perihelion passage with a final radius of ~1 km.Very little was known about the population of sungrazing comets until 1979 when coronagraphic observations allowed the detection of sungrazers. As of October 21, 2017, there are 1495 known comets that come within ~12 solar radii (~0.055 AU). This accounts for nearly one third of all comets. Most of these objects vaporize during their close approach, but a comet with a nucleus radius larger than 2–3
Sungrazer comets were some of the earliest observed comets because they can appear very bright. Some are even considered Great Comets. The close passage of a comet to the Sun will brighten the comet not only because of the reflection off the comet nucleus when it is closer to the Sun, but the Sun also vaporizes a large amount of gas from the comet and the gas reflects more light. This extreme brightening will allow for possible naked eye observations from Earth depending on how volatile the gases are and if the comet is large enough to survive perihelion. These comets provide a useful tool for understanding the composition of comets as we observe the outgassing activity and they also offer a way to probe the effects solar radiation has on other Solar System bodies.
One of the first comets to have its orbit computed was the sungrazing comet (and Great Comet) of 1680, now designated C/1680 V1. It was observed by Isaac Newton and he published the orbit results in 1687.Later, in 1699, Jacques Cassini proposed that comets could have relatively short orbital periods and that C/1680 V1 was the same as a comet observed by Tycho Brahe in 1577, but in 1705 Edmond Halley determined that the difference between the perihelion distances of the two comets was too great for them to be the same object. However, this marked the first time that it was hypothesized that Great Comets were related or perhaps the same comet. Later, Johann Franz Encke computed the orbit of C/1680 V1 and found a period of approximately 9000 years, leading him to conclude that Cassini's theory of short period sungrazers was flawed. C/1680 V1 had the smallest measured perihelion distance until the observation in 1826 of comet C/1826 U1.
Advances were made in understanding sungrazing comets in the 19th century with the Great Comets of 1843, C/1880 C1, and 1882. C/1880 C1 and C/1843 D1 had very similar appearances and also resembled the Great Comet of 1106, therefore Daniel Kirkwood proposed that C/1880 C1 and C/1843 D1 were separate fragments of the same object.He also hypothesized that the parent body was a comet seen by Aristotle and Ephorus in 371 BC because there was a supposed claim that Ephorus witnessed the comet splitting after perihelion.
Comet C/1882 R1 appeared only two years after the previously observed sungrazer so this convinced astronomers that these bright comets were not all the same object. Some astronomers theorized that the comet might pass through a resisting medium near the Sun and that would shorten its period.When astronomers observed C/1882 R1, they measured the period before and after perihelion and saw no shortening in the period which disproved the theory. After perihelion this object was also seen to split into several fragments and therefore Kirkwood's theory of these comets coming from a parent body seemed like a good explanation.
In an attempt to link the 1843 and 1880 comets to the comet in 1106 and 371 BC, Kreutz measured the fragments of the 1882 comet and determined that it was likely a fragment of the 1106 comet. He then designated that all sungrazing comets with similar orbital characteristics as these few comets would be part of the Kreutz Group.
The 19th century also provided the first spectrum taken of a comet near the Sun which was taken by Finlay & Elkin in 1882.Later the spectrum was analyzed and Fe and Ni spectral lines were confirmed.
The first sungrazing comet observed in the 20th century was in 1945 and then between 1960 and 1970 five sungrazing comets were seen (C/1961 O1, C/1962 C1, C/1963 R1, C/1965 S1, and C/1970 K1). The 1965 comet (Comet Ikeya-Seki) allowed for measurements of spectral emission lines and several elements were detected including Iron, marking this the first comet since the Great Comet of 1882 to show this feature. Other emission lines included K, Ca, Ca+, Cr, Co, Mn, Ni, Cu, and V.Comet Ikeya-Seki also led to separating the Kreutz sungrazers into two subgroups by Brian Marsden in 1967. One subgroup appears to have the 1106 comet as the parent body and members are fragments of that comet, while the other group have similar dynamics but no confirmed parent body associated with it.
The 20th century greatly impacted sungrazing comet research with the launch of coronagraphic telescopes including Solwind, SMM, and SOHO. Until this point, sungrazing comets were only seen with the naked eye but with the coronagraphic telescopes many sungrazers were observed that were much smaller and very few have survived perihelion passage. The comets observed by Solwind and SMM from 1981 to 1989 had visual magnitudes from about -2.5 to +6 which is much fainter than Comet Ikeya-Seki with a visual magnitude of about -10.
In 1987 and 1988 it was first observed by SMM that there could be pairs of sungrazing comets that can appear within very short time periods ranging from a half of a day up to about two weeks. Calculations were made to determine that the pairs were part of the same parent body but broke apart at tens of AU from the Sun.The breakup velocities were only on the order of a few meters per second which is comparable to the speed of rotation for these comets. This led to the conclusion that these comets break from tidal forces and that comets C/1882 R1, C/1965 S1, and C/1963 R1 probably broke off from the Great Comet of 1106.
Coronagraphs allowed for measuring the properties of the comet as it reached very close to the Sun. It was noted that sungrazing comets tend to peak in brightness at a distance of about 12.3 solar radii or 11.2 solar radii. It is thought that this variation stems from a difference in dust composition. Another small peak in brightness has been found at about 7 solar radii from the sun and it is possibly due to a fragmentation of the comet nucleus.An alternative explanation is that the brightness peak at 12 solar radii comes from the sublimation of amorphous olivines and the peak at 11.2 solar radii is from the sublimation of crystalline olivines. The peak at 7 solar radii could then be the sublimation of pyroxene.
The most famous sungrazers are the Kreutz Sungrazers, which all originate from one giant comet that broke up into many smaller comets during its first passage through the inner Solar System. An extremely bright comet seen by Aristotle and Ephorus in 371 BC is a possible candidate for this parent comet.
The Great Comets of 1843 and 1882, Comet Ikeya–Seki in 1965 and C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy) in 2011 were all fragments of the original comet. Each of these four was briefly bright enough to be visible in the daytime sky, next to the Sun, outshining even the full moon.
In 1979, C/1979 Q1 (SOLWIND) was the first sungrazer to be spotted by US satellite P78-1, in coronagraphs taken on 30 and 31 Aug 1979.
Since the launch of the SOHO satellite in 1995, hundreds of tiny Kreutz Sungrazers have been discovered, all of which have either plunged into the Sun or been destroyed completely during their perihelion passage, with the exception of C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy).[ citation needed ] The Kreutz family of comets is apparently much larger than previously suspected.[ citation needed ]
About 83% of the sungrazers observed with SOHO are members of the Kreutz group.The other 17% contains some sporadic sungrazers, but three other related groups of comets have been identified among them: the Kracht, Marsden and Meyer groups. The Marsden and Kracht groups both appear to be related to Comet 96P/Machholz. These comets have also been linked to several meteor streams, including the Daytime Arietids, the delta Aquariids, and the Quadrantids. Linked comet orbits suggest that both Marsden and Kracht groups have a small period, on the order of five years, but the Meyer group may have intermediate- or long-period orbits. The Meyer group comets are typically small, faint, and never have tails. The Great Comet of 1680 was a sungrazer and while used by Newton to verify Kepler's equations on orbital motion, it was not a member of any larger groups. However, comet C/2012 S1 (ISON), which disintegrated shortly before perihelion, had orbital elements similar to the Great Comet of 1680 and could be a second member of the group.
Studies show that for comets with high orbital inclinations and perihelion distances of less than about 2 astronomical units, the cumulative effect of gravitational perturbations over many orbits is adequate to reduce the perihelion distance to very small values. One study has suggested that Comet Hale–Bopp has about a 15% chance of eventually becoming a sungrazer.
The motion of tails of sungrazers that survive perihelion (such as Comet Lovejoy) can provide solar astronomers with information about the structure of the solar corona, particularly the detailed magnetic structure.
A comet is an icy, small Solar System body that, when passing close to the Sun, warms and begins to release gases, a process that is called outgassing. This produces a visible atmosphere or coma, and sometimes also a tail. These phenomena are due to the effects of solar radiation and the solar wind acting upon the nucleus of the comet. Comet nuclei range from a few hundred meters to tens of kilometers across and are composed of loose collections of ice, dust, and small rocky particles. The coma may be up to 15 times Earth's diameter, while the tail may stretch beyond one astronomical unit. If sufficiently bright, a comet may be seen from Earth without the aid of a telescope and may subtend an arc of 30° across the sky. Comets have been observed and recorded since ancient times by many cultures and religions.
Comet Ikeya–Seki, formally designated C/1965 S1, 1965 VIII, and 1965f, was a long-period comet discovered independently by Kaoru Ikeya and Tsutomu Seki. First observed as a faint telescopic object on September 18, 1965, the first calculations of its orbit suggested that on October 21, it would pass just 450,000 km above the Sun's surface, and would probably become extremely bright.
The Great Comet of 1843, formally designated C/1843 D1 and 1843 I, was a long-period comet which became very bright in March 1843. It was discovered on February 5, 1843 and rapidly brightened to become a great comet. It was a member of the Kreutz Sungrazers, a family of comets resulting from the breakup of a parent comet into multiple fragments in about 1106. These comets pass extremely close to the surface of the Sun—within a few solar radii—and often become very bright as a result.
The Great Comet of 1882 formally designated C/1882 R1, 1882 II, and 1882b, was a comet which became very bright in September 1882. It was a member of the Kreutz Sungrazers, a family of comets which pass within 1 R☉ of the Sun's photosphere at perihelion. The comet was bright enough to be visible next to the Sun in the daytime sky at its perihelion.
The Kreutz sungrazers are a family of sungrazing comets, characterized by orbits taking them extremely close to the Sun at perihelion. They are believed to be fragments of one large comet that broke up several centuries ago and are named for German astronomer Heinrich Kreutz, who first demonstrated that they were related. A Kreutz sungrazers's aphelion is about 170 AU from the Sun; these sungrazers make their way from the distant outer Solar System from a patch in the sky in Canis Major, to the inner Solar System, to their perihelion point near the Sun, and then leave the inner Solar System in their return trip to their aphelion.
Comet White–Ortiz–Bolelli was a bright comet which appeared in 1970. It was a member of the Kreutz Sungrazers, a family of comets which resulted from the break-up of a large parent comet several centuries ago. It was already easily visible to the naked eye when first discovered, and reached a maximum apparent magnitude of +1.
Comet Pereyra was a bright comet which appeared in 1963. It was a member of the Kreutz Sungrazers, a group of comets which pass extremely close to the Sun.
Comet 96P/Machholz or 96P/Machholz 1 is a short-period sungrazing comet discovered on May 12, 1986, by amateur astronomer Donald Machholz on Loma Prieta peak, in central California using 130 millimetres (5.1 in) binoculars. On June 6, 1986, 96P/Machholz passed 0.40373 AU from the Earth. 96P/Machholz last came to perihelion on October 27, 2017, and will next come to perihelion on January 31, 2023. The comet has an estimated diameter of around 6.4 km (4.0 mi).
X/1106 C1, also known as the Great Comet of 1106, was a great comet that appeared on 2 February 1106, and was observed across the world from the beginning of February through to mid-March. It was recorded by astronomers in Wales, England, Japan, Korea, China and Continental Europe. It was observed to split into many pieces, forming the Great Comet of 1882 and Comet Ikeya–Seki as well as over 4000 small sungrazing comets observed by the SOHO space telescope. It is a member of the Kreutz Group, known as Subfragment I, a split from an earlier large (~150 km) comet that progressively fragmented under the influence of the Sun.
Comet 322P/SOHO, also designated P/1999 R1, P/2003 R5, P/2007 R5, and P/2011 R4, is the first periodic comet to be discovered using the automated telescopes of the SOHO spacecraft, and second to be given a numbered designation, after 321P/SOHO. JPL Horizons next predicts 322P to come to perihelion at 2019-Aug-31 12:25 UT.
P78-1 or Solwind was a United States satellite launched aboard an Atlas F rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on February 24, 1979. The satellite operated until it was destroyed in orbit on September 13, 1985 to test the ASM-135 ASAT anti-satellite missile.
D/1770 L1, popularly known as Lexell's Comet after its orbit computer Anders Johan Lexell, was a comet discovered by astronomer Charles Messier in June 1770. It is notable for having passed closer to Earth than any other comet in recorded history, approaching to a distance of only 0.015 astronomical units. The comet has not been seen since 1770 and is considered a lost comet.
A total solar eclipse occurred on May 17, 1882. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun, thereby totally or partly obscuring the image of the Sun for a viewer on Earth. A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon's apparent diameter is larger than the Sun's, blocking all direct sunlight, turning day into darkness. Totality occurs in a narrow path across Earth's surface, with the partial solar eclipse visible over a surrounding region thousands of kilometres wide. Totality was visible across central Africa, the Middle East, and southeastern Asia.
The Great Southern Comet of 1887, or C/1887 B1 using its International Astronomical Union (IAU) designation, was a bright comet seen from the Southern Hemisphere during January 1887. Later calculations indicated it to be part of the Kreutz Sungrazing group.
Comet Lovejoy, formally designated C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy), is a long-period comet and Kreutz sungrazer. It was discovered in November 2011 by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy. The comet's perihelion took it through the Sun's corona on 16 December 2011, after which it emerged intact, though greatly impacted by the event.
Comet C/2012 E2 (SWAN) was a Kreutz group sungrazing comet discovered by Vladimir Bezugly in publicly available images taken by the SWAN instrument on board the SOHO spacecraft. It is recognized for being the first Kreutz sungrazer observed in SWAN imagery.
A great comet is a comet that becomes exceptionally bright. There is no official definition; often the term is attached to comets such as Halley's Comet, which during certain appearances are bright enough to be noticed by casual observers who are not looking for them, and become well known outside the astronomical community. Great comets are rare; on average, only one will appear in a decade. Although comets are officially named after their discoverers, great comets are sometimes also referred to by the year in which they appeared great, using the formulation "The Great Comet of ...", followed by the year.