NASA shares photo of a recently discovered comet

On December 14, people in Chile and Argentina were able to view a total solar eclipse. What those viewing the eclipse didn't know was that nearby was a speck flying past the sun. That little speck was a newly discovered comet that was first spotted in satellite data by an amateur astronomer from Thailand.The comet was discovered by Worachate Boonplod when participating in the NASA-funded Sungrazer Project. That project is a citizen science project inviting anyone to search for and discover new comets in images from the ESA and NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory known as SOHO. The amateur astronomer discovered the comet on December 13, the day before the eclipse.

The comet is named C/2020 X3 (SOHO) and is a "Kreutz" sungrazer. That family of comets originated from a larger parent comet that fractured into smaller pieces over a thousand years ago. The smaller pieces continue to orbit around the Sun today and are typically found in SOHO images. SOHO uses a camera that mimics a total solar eclipse using a solid occulting disc that blocks out the sun's blinding light to reveal dimmer features in the outer atmosphere and objects such as comets.

SOHO images have discovered 4108 comets so far, and C/2020 X3 (SOHO) is the 3524th Kreutz sungrazer spotted. When the image above was taken, the comet was traveling at about 450,000 mph and was about 2.7 million miles from the surface of the sun. It's a small comet about 50 feet in diameter, which is about the length of a semi-truck.

A few hours after the image was taken, the comet disintegrated into dust particles due to intense solar radiation. That means the photo is the first and last of this particular comet.