A sun-grazing comet and a solar eruption have been caught on film together by NASA’s twin STEREO spacecraft. The video shows comet Pan-STARRS and a massive coronal mass ejection (CME), caused by a recent solar flare, together in a striking new video.
Comet Pan-STARRS is visible in the film as it’s moving through the inner solar system, which was filmed from March 10-15. And right as Pan-STARRS comes into view, a solar flare caused CME can be seen exploding towards the Earth.
“The bright light on the left comes from the sun and the bursts from the left represent the solar material erupting off the sun in a CME,” officials with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio stated in their description, covered by Space.com.
The video taken by one of NASA’s twin Stereo spacecraft (short for Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory). The twin spacecraft were launched back in 2006, and have been working collaboratively since then to provide a near constant stream of video documenting the sun’s solar weather. “One Stereo probe orbits just ahead of the Earth while the other trails behind.”
“While it appears from Stereo’s point of view that the CME passes right by the comet, the two are not lying in the same plane, which scientists know since the comet’s tail didn’t move or change in response to the CME’s passage,” NASA officials stated.
Comet Pan-STARRS put on a brilliant show earlier this month for those in the Southern Hemisphere, and a good one for those in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s actually still visible in the Northern Hemisphere, on and will remain so for the next week or so, though it is rapidly dimming. With a good pair of binoculars or a telescope though, it is still putting on a good show. Look for it low on the Western horizon, for an hour or so after sunset.
For those looking for something much more spectacular, Comet ISON later this year is set to be one of brightest comets in recent memory, possibly even “the comet of the century”, as some have labeled it. It’s expected to peak in November/December, but should first become visible a few months before that.
“NASA’s Stereo spacecraft are one of several missions that constantly monitor the sun for signs of solar flares and eruptions. The sun is currently in an active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle. The current cycle is known as Solar Cycle 24 and is expected to reach its peak this year.”
There has been some debate about whether this current cycle will have a single or double peak though. There haven’t been that many solar flares or CMEs recently, suggesting that perhaps we are in a lull before the true peak of activity occurs, with its associated uptick in potentially dangerous solar flares and storms.
Image Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/STEREO