By Dr. John Ohab, Naval Research Laboratory Public Affairs
In the video below, Comet Lovejoy races through a several-million degree solar corona as it passes the Sun on December 15th, 2011 (EST). The comet defied the expectations of many experts by not only surviving its solar plunge but re-emerging as strong and bright as before.
“It’s absolutely astounding,” says Karl Battams, computational scientist at U.S Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). “I did not think the comet’s icy core was big enough to survive plunging through the several million degree solar corona for close to an hour, but Comet Lovejoy is still with us.”
Imagery was gathered in the 171 Angstrom wavelength from the NRL’s Sun-Earth Connection Coronal and Heliospheric Investigation (SECCHI)/EUVI-A instruments, which are a part of the NASA Solar Terrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) mission. STEREO consists of two space-based observatories – one ahead of Earth in its orbit, the other trailing behind. With this new pair of viewpoints, scientists are able to see the structure and evolution of solar storms as they blast from the Sun and move out through space.
Comet Lovejoy was discovered on Dec. 2, 2011, by amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy of Australia. It’s not uncommon for comets to be discovered by members of the general public. Visit NRL’s Sungrazing Comets website to learn more about how you can help discover comets.