NASA satellite captures sun-diving comet during solar explosion

In this screengrab from Spaceweather.com's time lapse video, the tiny comet is visible in the lower right corner, approaching the sun as it lets off a coronal mass ejection. Screengrab from Spaceweather.com

On Aug. 20, NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite captured a death-diving comet as it approached the sun. At almost the exact same time, the sun threw off a cloud of particles known as a coronal mass ejection (CME).

The comet quickly vaporized, as happens with most sun-diving stars.

"With a diameter of perhaps a few tens of meters, this comet was clearly far too small to survive the intense bombardment of solar radiation," Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab told Spaceweather.com.

The space-monitoring website reports that this comet belongs to the "Kruetz sungrazers" family of sun-divers. Astronomers believe these are mere fragments of larger comets that broke up in centuries past. Most of the 1,500 that have been reported in the last 15 years have disintegrated before reaching the sun.

The two events -- the kamikaze dive and the CME -- are not related, and happened on opposite sides of the sun. 

Watch the dramatic events below. 

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    Danielle Elliot is a freelance science editor and reporter for CBS News. She holds an M.A. in science and health journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. in broadcast journalism from the University of Maryland. Follow her on Twitter - @daniellelliot.

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