More often than you might imagine, tiny comets get sucked into the sun’s massive gravitational vortex, and die sparkling little deaths as “sun-divers.” In recent years, the SOHO satellites, which are constantly watching the sun, have shown us the final hours of these fragments of the distant outer solar system. Well, this week, just after a sun-diver met its fate, a pretty darn impressive coronal mass ejection blew out of the sun:
About the movie above: first, it may take a short while for it to fully load, but once it does, it will continue to repeat itself. It shows a 9-hour period late on October 1st. The white circle is the actual size of the sun; the larger masked area simply blocks out most of the bright solar corona, so the subtler dynamics of the outer corona can be imaged. The coronal mass ejection seen here is not unusual, or especially large; during the more active years in the sun’s 11-year solar activity cycle, such eruptions occur anywhere from daily to weekly.
A click on the image will take you to the SpaceWeather.com page from which I grabbed this, where you can read a bit about whether this reaction we see above is a coincidence, and follow a couple links to a smaller but surprisingly clear event last summer that first opened the question: could a tiny comet actually trigger a solar reaction? Apparently, the idea isn’t considered as outlandish as it once was.
But beyond the new science that may be emerging, this little movie gives us a chance to simply revel in the dynamic beauty that is our local star.