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A First: Comet Seen Actually Entering Sun's Atmosphere
(Image: Science/AAAS via Space.com)

A First: Comet Seen Actually Entering Sun's Atmosphere

"...make a splash."

Know the saying that that if you fly to close to the sun, you'll get burned? For one comet, this saying meant complete incineration.

For the first time, a comet has gone where no comet has been observed to go before -- into the sun's atmosphere. According to Space.com, the comet was seen alive and well on July 4, 2011 -- two days before it entered dangerous territory. On July 6, it flew 62,000 miles into the sun's atmosphere, at which point it reportedly broke into pieces and was vaporized, Space.com reported. National Geographic reports that this means the comet could have reached the sun's corona.

The Kreutz comet C/2011 N3 -- a member of a family of dare devil comets that fly close to the sun -- was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) and Solar-Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO). Space.com reports that within the last 15 years more than 1,400 Kreutz comets have been spotted but the telescopes were not sensitive enough, until now, to detect if the sungrazers had entered the sun's atmosphere.

National Geographic has more from solar physicist and fellow at the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center Karel Schrijver:

"We know what to do should another [sungrazer] materialize. We're going to point multiple spacecraft at it and observe it," Schrijver said.

No comets have been seen to actually impact the sun yet, but Schrijver isn't ruling out the possibility: "That," he said, "would make a splash."

Watch this Space.com report:

Scientists believe that the comet weighed about 70,000 tons, but in its last 10 minutes of life lost between 1.5 million to 150 million pounds.

Researchers believe that sun-driving comet observations could lead them to better understand comet composition as well as the sun's upper atmosphere.

More recently, the Lovejoy comet -- also a member of the  Kreutz sungrazers -- flew by the sun in Dec. 2011. Check out this Blaze post with a time-lapsed video of the Lovejoy comet from space.

The observations were published in this month's edition of the journal Science.

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