Eclipse 2020

Comets spotted during ‘Great South American Eclipse’

A cosmic visitor was identified during totality

Intrepid eclipse-chasers may have been thin on the ground at the recent total solar eclipse in Chile and Argentina, but there was one unexpected visitor. 

A recently discovered comet called C/2020 X3 (SOHO) was spotted flying past the Sun on December 14, 2020, by Thai amateur astronomer Worachate Boonplod, who had discovered the comet the day before the eclipse.

A satellite image of the Sun taken by the LASCO C2 camera on the ESA/NASA SOHO observatory, colored in red, shows a bright speck of light orbiting the Sun, while the comet can also be spotted in Andreas Möller’s images from Piedras del Aguila, Argentina. 

Boonplod works on the NASA-funded Sungrazer Project, a citizen science project that invites anyone to search for and discover new comets in images from the joint European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO. 

C/2020 X3 (SOHO) is about 50ft. wide and traveled at about 450,000 miles per hour, about 2.7 million miles from the Sun’s surface. It’s a member of the “Kreutz” sungrazer family of comets, which originated from a large parent comet that broke up into smaller fragments well over a thousand years ago. 

Some eclipse-chasers also report photographing another comet, C/2020 S3 (Erasmus), while the Sun was totally eclipsed. 

Pic credit: (left) The LASCO C2 camera on the ESA/NASA SOHO observatory shows comet C/2020 X3 (SOHO) in the bottom left-hand corner. (right) A composite image of the total solar eclipse on Dec. 14, 2020, based on 65 frames taken by Andreas Möller (Arbeitskreis Meteore e.V.) in Piedras del Aguila, Argentina, and processed by Jay Pasachoff and Roman Vanur.

Credits: ESA/NASA/SOHO/Andreas Möller (Arbeitskreis Meteore e.V.)/processed by Jay Pasachoff and Roman Vanur/Joy Ng. Eclipse image used with permission.