The comet and the Coronal Mass Ejection

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Oct. 4 2011 9:30 AM

The comet and the Coronal Mass Ejection

On October 1, a bright comet screamed into the Sun, and apparently disintegrated. This happens pretty often, actually, but in this case, just minutes later, the Sun blew out a pretty hefty coronal mass ejection, a huge explosion of magnetic energy that can release billions of tons of material.

Some people have speculated that these two things are related (including times when this has happened in the past). Are they? We have videos of the event from three different satellites, giving us three angles on what happened, providing clues on what really occurred.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death from the Skies! Follow him on Twitter.

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To shed some light on this -- haha -- I made a short video explaining this, including the footage of the comet collision and CME as seen by the three satellites:


[It helps to set the video resolution to 720p to see the details in the satellite views.]

So my guess is that while it's possible, it's not probable. CMEs happen all the time, so I'd expect a few to happen around the same time as comets flying past the Sun just by coincidence. We don't have any physical reason to think they're related, and when they are examined more closely, the CMEs usually don't come from a spot near the Sun where the comet traveled. Still, it's worth looking into, at least to build up a statistical case on way or the other.

The folks at SOHO -- the Solar Heliospheric Observatory -- have a post up with more info. Also, if you want to see the three satellite videos on their own, here is the SOHO video the STEREO A video, and the STEREO B video.

Very special thanks to SungrazerComets on Twitter for making the three original satellite animations. That's a good stream to follow if you want the latest on comets making death dives onto our star. [UPDATE: @SungrazerComets just posted an excellent and thorough article about this topic, too!]

Image credits: NASA, SOHO, STEREO



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