Comet Lovejoy survives close encounter with the sun

Posted by Emma Woollacott

To the surprise and delight of astronomers, a comet discovered just two weeks ago as it hurtled towards the sun has skimmed the star and re-emerged the other side.

Comet Lovejoy, a 660-foot ball of icy rock, got as close as 87,000 miles of the sun's surface and emerged intact. It shot through the sun's corona at about 7 pm EST yesterday, surviving temperatures as high as two million degrees Farenheit.

"Breaking News! Lovejoy lives! The comet Lovejoy has survived it's journey around the sun to reemerge on the other side," exclaimed delighted Solar Dynamics observatory staff on their Twitter feed.

"Here it is! The comet Lovejoy reemerging on the other side of the sun."

Lovejoy belongs to a class of comets known as Kreutz sungrazers, whose orbits, as the name implies, bring them very close to the sun. They are all believed to be the remains of a single giant comet that disintegrated hundreds of years ago.

Since its discovery on November 27 this year by amateur Australian astronomer Terry Lovejoy, comet Lovejoy has  been tracked by NASA, ESA and Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency - all of whom were expecting to see it vaporised.

Instead, as the NASA video below shows, it skimmed straight past the danger zone.

For those of you in North America who are up early, there's a chance of seeing it around dawn, a little above and to the right of the sun.