Before 1979, there were less than a dozen known sungrazing comets. As of December 2012, we know of 2,500. Why did this number increase? With solar observatories like SOHO, STEREO, and SDO, we have not only better means of viewing the sun, but also the comets that approach it. SOHO allows us to see smaller, fainter comets closer to the sun than we have ever been able to see before. Even though many of these comets do not survive their journey past the sun, they survive long enough to be observed, and be added to our record of sungrazing comets.
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Featured image: On Dec. 15, 2011, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured footage of Comet Lovejoy approaching the sun. The images and data collected by NASA's solar observing fleet can help scientists learn more about the sun itself. (Credit: NASA/Goddard Scientific Visual Studio)