Observing an eclipse or a comet is always a sight, but it becomes mind-blowing if the two things happen at the same time…
An eclipse takes place when one heavenly body, such as a moon or planet, moves into the shadow of another heavenly body. There are two types of eclipses on Earth: an eclipse of the moon and an eclipse of the sun. Whether there is an eclipse of the Sun or the Moon depends on which celestial body is obscured. Solar or lunar eclipses can only occur when the Earth, Sun and Moon are aligned or nearly aligned. Five solar eclipses and up to three lunar eclipses can occur in just one year. “There must be at least two solar eclipses of some kind every year” says the International Encyclopedia of Astronomy. However, each eclipse is visible from different locations, so it is a very special event many people can enjoy.
As Chile and Argentina witnessed the total solar eclipse on December 14th, 2020, unbeknownst to skywatchers, a little tiny speck was flying past the Sun, it was a comet. This comet was first spotted in satellite data by the astronomer Boonplod as part of the NASA-funded Sungrazer project. He discovered the comet on December 13th , the day before the eclipse. The comet, named C/2020 X3 is a sungrazer. It comes from a family of comets originated from a large parent comet that broke up into smaller fragments well over a thousand years ago and continues to orbit around the Sun today.
To date, 4,108 comets have been discovered in SOHO image by SOHO’s camera that works by mimicking total solar eclipses through a solid occulting disk which blocks out the otherwise blinding light of the Sun, revealing celestial objects like comets. At the time the eclipse image was taken, the comet of 50 feet in diameter, was travelling at roughly 50,000 miles per hour, about 2.7 million miles from the Sun’s surface. It then disintegrated to dust particles due to intense solar radiation, a few hours before reaching its closest point to the Sun.
An extraordinary sight even for the layman. And maybe someone else could fall in love with the firmament, becoming part of the ranks of amateurs who scour the sky as a hobby, a little at random, and doing so they identify new comets imprinting forever their names in the history of astronomy.