Jan. 12, 2012: Comets are icy and fragile. They spend most of their time orbiting through the dark outskirts of the solar system safe from destructive rays of intense sunlight. The deepest cold is their natural habitat.
Last November amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy discovered a different kind of comet. The icy fuzzball he spotted in the sky over his backyard observatory in Australia was heading almost directly for the sun.
On Dec. 16th, less than three weeks after he found it, Comet Lovejoy would swoop through the sun’s atmosphere only 120,000 km above the stellar surface.
Astronomers soon realized a startling fact: Comet Lovejoy likes it hot.
What caused Lovejoy to lose its tail inside the sun's atmosphere—and then regain it later? “This is one of the biggest mysteries to me,” says Battams.
And then there is the ultimate existential puzzle: How did Comet Lovejoy survive at all?
As January unfolds, the “Comet that liked it Hot” is returning to the outer solar system, still intact, leaving many mysteries behind. “It’ll be back in about 600 years,” says Knight. “Maybe we will have figured them out by then.”
"Terry found a sungrazer," says Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC. "We figured its nucleus was about as wide as two football fields—the biggest such comet in nearly 40 years..
[link to science.nasa.gov