UPDATE: 2011/12/16 11:00 UTC
Oooops....no one told Comet Lovejoy it was supposed to conk out near the sun. It has surprised everyone by surviving the close pass and stunning the SOHO team with their birthday present.
As the saying goes "16 and never been kissed" December the 2nd was the 16th birthday of the SOHO mission and what better way to celebrate than Lovejoy "kissing" the sun and emerging from the other side. Sungrazing comets are so-called because they pass so close to the sun that they rarely survive the passage. Multiple satellite instruments have picked up the comet exiting from behind the sun with its tail gyrating wildly in the solar wind. Latest Lasco instrument photos now show it moving away, still very bright and a partially visible tail that is still mostly obscured by the pixel bleed from the CCD camera.
Comet Lovejoy has lived up to its expectations of being one of the brightest Kreutz Class (Sungrazing) comets of all time.
Blazing at mag -3 and out of view for all "earthbound" observers, it is expected to cease to exist sometime in the next 12-18 hours as it approaches within 1.8 Solar radii.
This spectacular sequence from the LASCO C3 instrument on the SOHO observatory records the final death plunge. Note the horizontal artifact is due to the brightness of the coma which overloads the well count of the CCD camera causing pixel bleed.
In the highly unlikely event that the comet does make it round the sun it will be even more news worthy!
"The SOHO/LASCO data used here are produced by a consortium of the Naval Research Laboratory (USA), Max-Planck-Institut fuer Aeronomie (Germany), Laboratoire d'Astronomie (France), and the University of Birmingham (UK). SOHO is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA."
UPDATE: Lovejoy appears to have survived its passage, scientists noting with interest the presence of an Ion Tail in a addition to the dust tail, this has apparently not been seen before in a Kreutz Class comet. SOHO website and NASA having been live blogging and its a little early to know yet if we are going to get a great Christmas comet.