C / 2020 X3, observed by NASA / ESA Solar-Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), is part of the Kreutz family, a group of comets of related orbits that broke off from a giant comet centuries ago.
The C / 2020 X3 was discovered by an amateur Thai astronomer Worachate Boonplod on the NASA-funded Sungrazer project, a civic science project that invites everyone to search for and discover new comets in SOHO images.
Boonplod observed the comet on December 13, 2020, the day before the total solar eclipse on December 14.
The astronomer knew the eclipse was coming and was eager to see if the C / 2020 X3 would appear in the Sun’s outer atmosphere as a small speck in the eclipse photos.
The C / 2020 X3 is a Kreutz sungrazer comet approximately 15 m (50 ft) in diameter with a diffuse, elongated coma and a short, bright tail.
At about the time of SOHO imaging, the C / 2020 X3 was traveling at 724,205 km per hour, about 4.3 million km (2.7 million miles) from the Sun’s surface.
It then disintegrated into dust particles due to intense solar radiation, a few hours before it reached the nearest point to the Sun.
“Kreutz’s solar comets formed from a large parent comet that disintegrated into smaller fragments more than a thousand years ago and continues to orbit the Sun today,” SOHO astronomers said.
“These comets are most often found in SOHO images.”
“SOHO’s camera works by mimicking total solar eclipses,” they added.
“The hard occult disk blocks the otherwise blinding light of the Sun, revealing weaker characteristics in its outer atmosphere and other celestial objects like comets.”
“To date, 4,108 comets have been detected in SOHO images, and the C / 2020 X3 is 3,524. Kreutz’s umbrella.”
SOHO observations are reported in Electronic circle Minor Planet.
K. Battams and others. 2020. Comet C / 2020 X3 (SOHO). MPEC 2020-Y19