An unusual giant comet is heading directly towards the Sun

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And leaves a trail of ice

Comet Machholz 1 (96P/Machholz), which is closely watched by the US and European space agencies NASA and ESA, is now heading towards the Sun, inside the orbit of Jupiter.

Comet Machholz 1 (96P/Machholz) as seen by NASA
Comet Machholz 1 (96P/Machholz) as seen by NASA

Comet Makholz 1 is 6 kilometers wide and has an unusual composition. It contains less than 1.5% of the expected level of cyanogen gas and is also low in carbon. This led astronomers to conclude that the comet could be an “intruder” from another solar system. Getting closer to the Sun will help scientists unlock more of the comet’s secrets. 

Astrophysicist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC Carl Battams said:

96P is a very atypical comet, both in composition and behavior, so we never know exactly what we might see.

Comet Machholz 1 (96P/Machholz) was first observed by amateur astronomer David Machholz in 1986 using a homemade telescope. Most comets that hit the Sun are less than 10 meters wide, so they burn up as they approach the star. 

However, Machholz 1’s gigantic size (more than two-thirds the height of Everest) appears to protect it from total evaporation. Since its discovery, the comet has made five close passes around the Sun.  

 

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