Kamikaze Comets: The Kreutz Sungrazers
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The year 1843 saw the appearance of a remarkable comet, rated by many as one of the most spectacular of the nineteenth century. We will have more to say about this comet later, but for the moment let’s simply note its amazingly small perihelion distance, just 0.0055 AU, well within the Sun’s corona! (It is not for nothing that comets such as this one have in more recent times been likened to the Kamikaze suicide pilots of World War II!).
Fast forward now to February 1880, when southern hemisphere observers were again startled by the sudden appearance of a great comet in the southwestern evening skies. Although the new visitor became neither as bright nor as spectacular as the one 37 years earlier, its appearance as a small and compact coma at the base of a very long tail of remarkably uniform intensity was very reminiscent of the earlier object. But the orbit provided the real surprise. It was essentially identical with that of the earlier comet!
It seemed most obvious to simply assume...