A comet favorite whips by the Sun this week under scientists watchful eye

Fans of the long-running Solar and Heliospheric Observatory have a special treat this week: A long-time cometary favorite of the SOHO spacecraft team will make a grand return to the spacecraft’s images as it swings around the sun.

The comet, called 96P/Machholz, will start its fifth run through the spacecraft’s field of view since SOHO launched in 1995. Its previous visits were in 1996, 2002, 2007 and 2012. This time around, it should enter the lower-right-hand corner of the imagery on Oct. 25 and then move along the right-hand edge of the field of view through Oct. 30. [Amazing Comet Photos from Earth and Space]

“96P is a fascinating comet,” SOHO researchers said in a statement, calling 96P one of the team’s favorites. “Amateur astronomer Don Machholz discovered the comet in 1986, and it was soon revealed to be short-period, meaning its orbit around the sun is less than 200 years. Comet 96P completes an orbit every 5.24 years, and has its closest approach to the sun at a rather toasty 0.12 AU (18 million kilometers or 11 million miles) [from the sun]. That’s very close for a comet, and that alone makes it interesting.”

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