Space enthusiasts were stunned to see three comet fragments flying in front of the Sun in NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite images. In a quick ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ compilation, the three fragments, dubbed SOHO 4050, 4052 and 4049, can be seen zooming in front of our host star.
However, researchers are stumped by the sighting, stating they are unsure where the comet fragments came from.
Most comets SOHO finds are what are known as ‘Kreutz sungrazers’ fragments of comets which pass in front of the Sun, and were part of a larger body which broke up at least 1,000 years ago.
However, as it stands, scientists are unable to track the triple phenomenons orbits.
Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC told Space Weather: “It was a triple comet.
Comet news: ‘UNUSUAL’ phenomenon as triple comet captured by NASA satellite
Three comets pass in front of the Sun
“The two main components are easy to spot, with the third, a very faint, diffuse fragment following alongside the leading piece.
“It is not a member of the Kreutz family. Its orbit doesn’t match. We’re not yet sure where it came from.
“Unfortunately, the prognosis for small fragmenting comets like this is not good.
“This was probably this comet’s first and last pass by the Sun, as it has likely now crumbled away entirely. But SOHO will continue to keep watching the sun, and waiting for our next special cometary offering to come along.”
The discovery comes shortly after Comet NEOWISE was visible from Earth.
Asteroids, comets and meteors
For almost the entire month of July, stargazers were able to see the passing Comet NEOWISE using the naked eye from their back garden.
However, some scientists have warned Comet NEOWISE could be the last comet which could be visible to the naked eye.
Light pollution is increasingly making it difficult for astronomers and amateur stargazers alike, as artificial lighting is constantly on the increase, a team of researchers say.
According to the Natural History museum, light pollution caused by artificial lighting is increasing by an average of six percent a year. And as things get lighter here on Earth, the sky at night seemingly gets darker.
Gareth Dorrian, postdoctoral research fellow in Space Science at the University of Birmingham, and Ian Whittaker, senior lecturer in physics from Nottingham Trent University, said: “With the constant increase of light pollution in the night sky the observation of comets with the naked eye is becoming much rarer.”