Feeds

Solar storm rips tail from comet

NASA catches it on camera

Intelligent flash storage arrays

STEREO, NASA's satellite sent up to the heavens to examine the surface of the Sun, has captured the first ever images of a collision between a comet and a solar "hurricane". The force of the solar storm, a coronal mass ejection (CME), was so great that it tore the plasma tail from the comet.

The tail comes off a comet. Credit: NASA's STEREO satellite

The tail comes off a comet. Credit: NASA's STEREO satellite

In the sequence of four images, you can clearly see the tail of Encke's Comet brighten as the cloud of highly-charged solar material sweeps past. The comet's plasma tail is then detached and carried away by the ejected solar mass.

The team of scientists working on the STEREO mission have combined the images to make a movie. They've also written up the discovery for the 10 October issue of the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Lead author and researcher at the Naval Research Laboratory Angelos Vourlidas, professed himself "awestruck" by the images.

"This is the first time we've witnessed a collision between a coronal mass ejection and a comet and the surprise of seeing the disconnection of the tail was the icing on the cake," he said.

It has been known for a while that plasma tails can be disconnected from their comets, but the mechanism by which it happened was somewhat mysterious. CMEs were on the list of suspects, but there was not enough evidence for a warrant.

A coronal mass ejection is a vast quantity (billions of tonnes) of solar matter hurled from the surface of the sun at speeds of more than 2,000 miles per second. When they reach Earth, they trigger geomagnetic storms of such magnitude that satellites, power stations, and radio communications are all vulnerable to disruption.

The scientists propose that the ionised gas of the CME interacted with the comet in a way similar to a magnetic reconnection event. In such an event, oppositely directed magnetic fields around the comet collide with the fields in the CME. The comet's fields are compressed, and suddenly link together, releasing a burst of energy that separates the tail. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.