COMET AND CME: A comet discovered by amateur astronomers on Friday, Sept. 30th, disintegrated in spectacular fashion the very next day when it plunged into the sun. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory recorded the comet’s last hours. The end was punctuated by an unexpected explosion:
Watch the movie again. The timing of the CME so soon after the comet dove into the sun suggests a link. But what? There is no known mechanism for comets to trigger solar explosions. 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.