A comet discovered during 2020 Total Solar Eclipse

As Chile and Argentina witnessed the total solar eclipse on Dec. 14, 2020, unbeknownst to skywatchers, a little tiny speck was flying past the Sun.

On Dec. 13, the day before the solar eclipse, Thai amateur astronomer Worachate Boonplod spotted the comet named C/2020 X3.

The comet, named C/2020 X3 (SOHO) by the Minor Planet Center, is a “Kreutz” sungrazer. This comet family 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.

Boonplod knew the eclipse was coming. He was excited to see whether his new comet discovery might appear in the Sun’s outer atmosphere as a speck in eclipse photographs.

The comet traveled at roughly 450,000 miles per hour, about 2.7 million miles from the Sun’s surface. It was around 50 feet in diameter — about the length of a semitruck. It then disintegrated into dust particles due to intense solar radiation, a few hours before reaching its closest point to the Sun.

Kreutz sungrazing comets are most commonly found in SOHO images. SOHO’s camera works by mimicking total solar eclipses: A solid occulting disk blocks out the otherwise blinding light of the Sun, revealing dimmer features in its outer atmosphere and other celestial objects like comets. To date, 4,108 comets have been discovered in SOHO images, with this comet being the 3,524th Kreutz sungrazer spotted.

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