A sungrazing comet is a
cometthat passes extremely close to the Sunat perihelion- sometimes within a few thousand kilometres of the Sun's surface. While small sungrazers can be completely evaporated during such a close approach to the Sun, larger sungrazers can survive many perihelion passages. However, the strong tidal forces they experience often lead to their fragmentation.
The Kreutz Sungrazers
The most famous sungrazers are the
Kreutz Sungrazers, which all originate from one giant comet that broke up into many smaller comets during its first passage through the inner solar system. An extremely bright comet seen by Aristotleand Ephorusin 371 BCis a possible candidate for this parent comet.
Great Comets of 1843 and 1882, and Comet Ikeya-Sekiin 1965were all fragments of the original comet. Each of these three was briefly bright enough to be visible in the daytime sky, next to the Sun, outshining even the full moon.
Since the launch of the SOHO satellite in 1995, hundreds of tiny Kreutz Sungrazers have been discovered, all of which have either plunged into the sun or been destroyed completely during their perihelion passage. The Kreutz family of comets is apparently much larger than previously suspected. It will only be a matter of time before another large member of the group passes through the inner solar system and gives a display to rival the great Kreutz comets of the past.
About 85% of the sungrazers observed with SOHO are members of the Kreutz group. [ [http://www.esa.int/esaCP/SEMB94SHKHF_index_0.html SOHO discovers its 1500th comet] ] The other 15% contains some sporadic sungrazers, but three other related groups of comets have been identified among them: the Kracht, Marsden and Meyer groups. The Marsden and Kracht groups both appear to be related to Comet
96P/Machholz, which is also the parent of two meteorstreams, the Quadrantidsand the Arietids. It is considered that both Marsden and Kracht groups have a small period, but Meyer group rather have intermediate or long period because Meyer comets have high orbit inclination.
Origin of sungrazing comets
Studies show that for comets with high
orbital inclinations and perihelion distances of less than about 2 Astronomical Units, the cumulative effect of gravitational perturbations over many orbits is to reduce the perihelion distance to very small values. One study has suggested that Comet Hale-Bopphas about a 15% chance of eventually becoming a sungrazer.
# Bailey M. E., Emel'yanenko V. V., Hahn G., Harris N. W., Hughes K. A., Muinonen K. (1996), "Orbital evolution of Comet 1995 O1 Hale-Bopp", Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 281, p. 916-924.
# Bailey M. E., Chambers J. E., Hahn G. (1992), "Origin of sungrazers - A frequent cometary end-state", Astronomy and Astrophysics, v. 257, p. 315-322.
# Ohtsuka K., Nakano S., Yoshikawa M. (2003), [http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2003PASJ...55..321O "On the Association among Periodic Comet 96P/Machholz, Arietids, the Marsden Comet Group, and the Kracht Comet Group"] , Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan, v. 55, p. 321-324
* [http://ares.nrl.navy.mil/sungrazer/ SOHO sungrazers information]
* [http://www.ast.cam.ac.uk/~jds/klist.htm Complete list of SOHO comets]
* [http://cometography.com/sungrazers/sungrazer.html Cometography sungrazers page]
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