Sat, Dec 17, 2011 - Page 2 News List

Astronomy buffs follow comet’s close encounter

‘ADMIRABLE’:The icy comet Lovejoy, one of the brightest so-called ‘Kreutz sungrazers,’ passed through the sun’s corona, but is expected to be doomed

Staff Writer, with CNA

The nation’s astronomy buffs are keeping their fingers crossed that an ill-fated comet that dove through the sun’s corona yesterday will survive.

The Taipei Astronomical Museum, which is leading Taiwan’s skywatchers in following the comet’s plight, said that Comet C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy) was steadily keeping its course around the sun yesterday and that it had gone behind the sun, where it was temporarily blocked from view.

“Up to 80 percent of the projections we’ve looked at have forecast that Lovejoy will be doomed eventually,” Taipei Astronomical Museum assistant researcher Chang Kuei-lan (張桂蘭) said.

“We are not sure yet whether it will be able to defy destiny, but in a sense, it’s an admirable comet,” she said.

Named after its finder, Terry Lovejoy of Australia, the comet was originally expected to disintegrate when it plowed through the sun’s hellishly hot plasma atmosphere, or corona.

However, the icy ball has survived — at least for now — after it made it through its orbit’s closest point to the sun, about 140,000km away, the museum said.

Lovejoy is likely to continue its journey on the other side of the sun, but its fate will not be learned until the weekend, the museum said.

“We will need to digest the data sent back from satellites to see if it survives the deadly encounter,” Chang said.

Lovejoy is one of the brightest Kreutz sungrazers, characterized by their orbits, which are extremely close to the sun.

Chang suggested that those interested in what happens to Lovejoy visit the museum’s Web site in the coming days.

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