SUNDIVING COMET AND FULL-HALO CME: A small comet plunged into the sun this morning, and just before it arrived, the sun expelled a magnificent full-halo CME. Click to view a movie from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO):
In the final frames of the movie, the comet can be seen furiously vaporizing. Indeed, those were the comet’s final frames. It did not emerge again from its flyby of the hot sun. “With a diameter of perhaps a few tens of meters, this comet was clearly far too small to survive the intense bombardment of solar radiation,” comments Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab, who studies sungrazing comets.
The CME (coronal mass ejection) came from an explosion on the farside of the sun. Although the CME and the comet appear to intersect, there was probably no interaction between the two. The comet is in the foreground and the farside CME is behind it.
Occasionally, readers ask if sundiving comets can trigger solar explosions. There’s no known mechanism for comets to spark solar flares. Comets are thought to be too small and fragile to destabilize the sun’s magnetic field. Plus, this comet was still millions of kilometers from the sun when the explosion unfolded.
The comet, R.I.P., was a member of the Kreutz family. Kreutz sungrazers are fragments from the breakup of a single giant comet many centuries ago. They get their name from 19th century German astronomer Heinrich Kreutz, who studied them in detail. Several Kreutz fragments pass by the sun and disintegrate every day. Most, measuring less than a few meters across, are too small to see, but occasionally a bigger fragment like this one attracts attention.