First, watch this sequence:
What is it? It’s an animation made from images taken by ESA’s SOHO solar observatory showing a comet diving into the Sun on October 1, and then a large CME (coronal mass ejection) erupting immediately thereafter.
Now, typically science has said that there is no connection between comets impacting the Sun and CMEs, or any other major eruption event. Comets are just too small to cause something like that to occur. Right?
Well, after seeing this, science isn’t quite so sure anymore.
Says the website SpaceWeather.com: “Before 2011 most solar physicists would have discounted the events of Oct. 1st as pure coincidence–and pure coincidence is still the most likely explanation. Earlier this year, however, the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) watched another sungrazer disintegrate in the sun’s atmosphere. On July 5, 2011, the unnamed comet appeared to interact with plasma and magnetic fields in its surroundings as it fell apart. Could a puny comet cause a magnetic instability that might propagate and blossom into a impressive CME? The question is not so crazy as it once seemed to be.”
And while it may seem obvious that this is indeed the case, when watching this video, one must remember that things are not always what they seem – especially in nature. A sunset makes the Sun look red, which it isn’t. And the stars definitely do not wheel around the Earth, although they sure seem to. So until we know more we really can’t say for certain if that comet caused a coronal mass ejection… but we can’t say for certain that it didn’t either.
This is what’s so cool about science!
Read more about this on the SOHO site here.