An astronomer has spotted a little tiny speck flying past the Sun which is a recently discovered rare comet, as the world witnessed the total solar eclipse this month.
This comet was first spotted in satellite data by Thai amateur astronomer Worachate Boonplod on the NASA-funded Sungrazer Project, as Chile and Argentina witnessed the total solar eclipse on December 14, reports NASA.
Around the time the eclipse image was taken, the comet was travelling at roughly 7,24,205 kms per hour, about 4.3 million kms from the Sun’s surface.
The comet was around 50 feet in diameter — about the length of a semi truck. It then disintegrated to dust particles due to intense solar radiation, a few hours before reaching its closest point to the Sun.
Sungrazer is a citizen science project that invites anyone to search for and discover new comets in images from the joint European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO.
Boonplod discovered the comet a day before the eclipse.
“He knew the eclipse was coming, and was eager to see whether his new comet discovery might appear in the Sun’s outer atmosphere as a small speck in eclipse photographs,” the US space agency said in a statement late on Saturday.
The comet, named C/2020 X3 (SOHO) by the Minor Planet Center, is a “Kreutz” sungrazer.
This family of comets originated from a large parent comet that broke up into smaller fragments well over a thousand years ago and continues to orbit around the Sun today.
Kreutz sungrazing comets are most commonly found in SOHO images.
To date, 4,108 comets have been discovered in SOHO images, with this comet being the 3,524th Kreutz sungrazer spotted, according to NASA.