Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


STEREO, SOHO spacecraft catch comet diving into sun

Solar physicists at the University of California, Berkeley, have captured for the first time the collision of a comet with the sun.

Using instruments aboard NASA's twin STEREO spacecraft, four post-doctoral fellows at UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory were able to track the comet as it approached the sun and estimate an approximate time and place of impact.

STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory), launched in 2006, consists of identical spacecraft orbiting the sun, one ahead of Earth and one behind Earth, providing a stereo view of the sun.

The researchers then looked at data from the ground-based Mauna Loa Solar Observatory in Hawaii, and found images in the predicted spot of what appears to be a comet approaching the edge of the sun from behind the solar disk.

"We believe this is the first time a comet has been tracked in 3-D space this low down in the solar corona," said Claire Raftery, a post-doctoral fellow newly arrived at UC Berkeley from Dublin's Trinity College.

The team will present its data and images during a 5:30-6:30 p.m. poster session on Monday, May 24, at the Miami, Fla., meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Sungrazing comets, comprised of dust, rock and ice, are seldom tracked close to the sun because their brightness is overwhelmed by the solar disk. This comet apparently survived the heat of the corona and disappeared in the chromosphere, evaporating in the 100,000-degree (Kelvin) heat.

Raftery and her colleagues, Juan Carlos Martinez-Oliveros, Samuel Krucker and Pascal Saint-Hilaire, concluded that the comet was probably one of the Kreutz family of comets, a swarm of Trojan or Greek comets ejected from their orbit in 2004 by Jupiter, and that it made its first and only loop around the sun. The swarm probably resulted from the disintegration of a larger comet.

Martinez-Oliveros' attention was first drawn to the comet after seeing it mentioned in a summary of March 12, 2010, observations by STEREO and by SOHO, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. The comet's long, bright tail of dust and ions tagged it as a sungrazing comet seen often by solar astronomers and observatories such as STEREO.

Assuming it was a going to loop around the sun, the researchers decided to see whether the STEREO data were good enough to let them calculate its trajectory.

In fact, the data were good enough to chart the comet's approach for two days before impact.

With an estimate of the impact zone within a circle about 1,000 kilometers in diameter, they searched online data from the Mauna Loa Solar Observatory to determine if they could see the comet next to the sun's edge in the ultraviolet region of the spectrum.

They found a short track, lasting about six minutes, just a few thousand kilometers above the sun's surface in the million-degree corona and 100,000-degree chromosphere.

Based on the comet's relatively short tail, about 3 million kilometers in length, the researchers believe that the comet contained heavier elements that do not evaporate readily. This would also explain how it penetrated so deeply into the chromosphere, surviving the strong solar wind as well as the extreme temperatures, before evaporating.

For their study, the team used the two coronagraphs on STEREO A and B and multiple instruments on SOHO, "demonstrat(ing) the importance of multi-view observations of non solar phenomena," they wrote in their poster.

All members of the team study explosive events on the sun, such as coronal mass ejections, and the hot ionized plasmas that they throw into space. The researchers' detour into cometary physics was purely accidental, they said.

"It was supposed to be an exercise, but it took over our lives," Raftery said.

Robert Sanders | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Move over, lasers: Scientists can now create holograms from neutrons, too
21.10.2016 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

nachricht Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus
20.10.2016 | The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>