WATCH: NASA Captures Insane Footage of Two Comets Crashing Into the Sun

by Shelby Scott
(Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Earlier this month, NASA stunned viewers nationwide with live coverage of their DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission. The mission successfully knocked a distant asteroid from its orbit in a test of the agency’s capability for asteroid redirection. More recently, however, other footage captured by NASA proves just as captivating, showing two comets dive-bombing into the sun. 

Newsweek reports that the new footage was captured by one of NASA’s probes, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft. The craft has been exploring outer space since it was originally launched in 1995 by NASA and the European Space Agency. Footage of the comets, called “Kreutz sungrazers,” was captured using a coronagraph. A chronograph blocks out light from the sun in order to give viewers a clear view of happenings around it. 

Per the news outlet, Kreutz sungrazers are a group of comets with a very similar orbit. That orbit often sees them “falling into the sun.” NASA scientists believe these ultimately doomed comets were borne of a “progenitor” comet that broke up. The much larger space rock then left behind thousands of comet fragments. 

Tabare Gallardo, an astronomer from the Universidad de la República in Uruguay, went in-depth about the comets’ origins. 

“What makes Kreutz comets so unusual is that they all have the same (or very close) orbit, so we think they are fragments of a parent comet which previously disrupted. It’s unclear when that disruption occurred.” 

Even more fascinating, experts believe the comet fragments to be ancient, with the parent comet, potentially more than 75 miles in diameter, initially discovered millennia ago 371 BC and earning the name the Great Comet. 

NASA Still Has a Lot to Learn About Kreutz Comets 

While NASA’s edited footage above really only captures a clear view of one of the two sungrazer comets, they’re actually pretty common and have been observed throughout history. However, while these space rocks are not a new phenomenon by any means, SOHO’s managed to capture photos and videos of more than 4,000 of them since its launch in 1995. Still, despite decades of tracking these comets, NASA’s scientists still have a lot to learn about these dive-bombing oddities.

“We have absolutely no idea what the actual distribution of Kreutz comets looks like around their orbit,” said Karl Battams of the U.S. Naval Research Lab. “Undoubtedly there are clusters, but it’s a several-century-long path that they’re following and we’ve only been blessed with a [roughly] 25-year window into that. So all we can do is keep watching and counting.” 

“[The reutz sungrazers] move around the sun in elliptic or hyperbolic orbits,” the astronomer explained. “One of the points of the ellipse or hyperbola is the point closest to the sun. The distance of this point from the center of the sun is the perihelion distance. If this distance is smaller than the solar radius, then the comet nuclear necessarily dives into the sun.” 

We look forward to learning more about sungrazer comets as NASA continues to capture images with SOHO.