The comet and the Coronal Mass Ejection

By Phil Plait | October 4, 2011 9:30 am

On October 1, a bright comet screamed into the Sun, and apparently disintegrated. This happens pretty often, actually, but in this case, just minutes later, the Sun blew out a pretty hefty coronal mass ejection, a huge explosion of magnetic energy that can release billions of tons of material.

Some people have speculated that these two things are related (including times when this has happened in the past). Are they? We have videos of the event from three different satellites, giving us three angles on what happened, providing clues on what really occurred.

To shed some light on this — haha — I made a short video explaining this, including the footage of the comet collision and CME as seen by the three satellites:

[It helps to set the video resolution to 720p to see the details in the satellite views.]

So my guess is that while it’s possible, it’s not probable. CMEs happen all the time, so I’d expect a few to happen around the same time as comets flying past the Sun just by coincidence. We don’t have any physical reason to think they’re related, and when they are examined more closely, the CMEs usually don’t come from a spot near the Sun where the comet traveled. Still, it’s worth looking into, at least to build up a statistical case on way or the other.

The folks at SOHO — the Solar Heliospheric Observatory — have a post up with more info. Also, if you want to see the three satellite videos on their own, here is the SOHO video
the STEREO A video, and the STEREO B video.

Very special thanks to SungrazerComets on Twitter for making the three original satellite animations. That’s a good stream to follow if you want the latest on comets making death dives onto our star. [UPDATE: @SungrazerComets just posted an excellent and thorough article about this topic, too!]

Image credits: NASA, SOHO, STEREO

Related posts:

Amazing video of comet on a solar death dive
The Sun blasts out a flare and a huge filament
Solar storm tracked all the way from the Sun to Earth
STEREO sees an ethereal solar blast


Comments (41)

  1. Dragonchild

    The Comet and the Coronal Mass Ejection. . .

    . . .

    I want a better bedtime story.

  2. Left_Wing_Fox

    Ah, I thought it was going to be the reverse; a coronal mass ejection disintegrating the comet.

    Pretty video though.

  3. dw

    Does a comet even have enough mass to have any noticeable effect on the Sun? Either way, I can already hear someone writing another bad disaster movie for the SyFy channel.

  4. Rocketman

    Nice analysis, Phil. I especially like the Stereo B video as it shows the suspected CME as much broader in scope than the SOHO video. We really do need more data and analysis around these events. Well done.

  5. I’ve seen videos like this before, with similar claims. I’m skeptical that the two are linked, if only for the difference in scale between a comet impact location and a CME. Is there even enough time between the impact and the CME for the shock wave of the impact to spread out to the size of a CME?

  6. Brian

    Pretty cool that we currently have three different views of the sun for examining these sorts of things!

  7. CameronSS

    @Deen: That’s the sort of impression I got. It just feels like tossing a pebble into the ocean and saying it caused a tsunami.

  8. Well, I don’t know about the comet causing the CME, but here’s what I do know. On Oct. 1, I was looking for some Halloween costume pieces. Shortly after the comet hit the sun, I arrived at a shop only to find that they had none of the things I was looking for. Clearly, the comet’s collision with the sun caused the absence of the bits I needed. QED.

  9. TonyM

    I’m very curious about this. Even though we can probably prove beyond any doubt that a pebble thrown into the ocean isn’t going to be the catalyst for a tsunami, how about applying the metaphor of a voice in the mountains triggering an avalanche? Avalanches happen all the time, with or without external applications of sound energy: The potential energy builds up over time and is eventually released when that stored energy overcomes friction (right?), and occasionally something (like sound energy) adds just enough to trigger a release. Also, it hasn’t been proven, but the idea is still out there that cosmic rays may be a catalyst for lightning strikes…

    So I’m just saying that it seems like it could be possible (however improbable it might be) that a comet or some other more metallic solid body could interact with the sun – especially during times of intense solar disruption like we are seeing these days – and just possibly provide a nudge to prematurely release stored energy, whether by releasing it’s own energy as it turns to plasma (would it?), or interferes just enough with the magnetic fields that build before a solar release.

    I don’t know: I’m not a scientist, but it would be fascinating to see what implications this _could_ have. Maybe we need to get to the stage where we can launch medium- to high-mass bodies directly to forming sunspot regions and see what happens. 😀

  10. David

    Comet, shmomet. Where can I get a coronal mass ejector for my car to convince the tail-gaters to keep their distance?

  11. TonyM

    David, don’t know where you live but in CA the CHP is a bit hyper-sensitive about missiles and fiery oils slicks being ejected at tailgaters, no matter how much they deserve it. Go figure.

    What we need is a small directional EMP!

  12. Alex Murdoch

    Any way to continue the trajectory of the comet through the occulting mass? Even as an animation, keeping the same trajectory, speed, etc. and showing the coronal mass ejection would certainly help visualize it.

  13. Sticks

    Totally unrelated, but where did you get your baseball cap? Are they available to buy here in the UK?

  14. Chris

    Weren’t there any observations from the SDO?

  15. Pete Jackson

    I never realized that the Sun is held up in space by a rope. Does a turtle hold the other end of the rope? It makes sense that a turtle holds up the Earth, but the Sun is too hot and a rope is required.

  16. Chris A.

    Cue the electric universe wing nuts in 3, 2, 1…

  17. Jeffersonian
  18. Harmen
  19. Yeah, I agree, Phil. CMEs happen quite often, and comets hitting the Sun aren’t very rare either. It makes sense that, eventually, they’ll happen at roughly the same time. So, coincidence. But still really cool.

    Related question: Do these comets have any effect on the Sun at all? The impacts we’ve witnessed on Jupiter left quite noticeable and relatively long-lasting scars. Or is the Sun just too big and the photosphere too thin and turbulent?

  20. db26

    In this case it was obviously related for some reason. The reason is the question, not if it was related or not. Everything is not coincidence just because it doesn’t fit your preconceived limited notions.

  21. therm

    With all the facts pointing to there being no interaction, and much discussion centered around the comet, perihelion, the occultation disk, and the timing, keep in mind that the CME itself is well on the way outward from the sun before you even see it. If you trace it backwards the 1 1/2 diameters to the solar surface, it’s very plain to see that the two events are unrelated.

  22. Ken

    Criticisms of the Electric Universe people are a little premature. Your analysis of the event makes several assumptions, we must keep in mind, that in the Electrical perspective we are not just dealing with two masses, but two electrically charged bodies connected by a plasma. One assumption that the author is making is that all comets are composed of the same material. A comet high in metal could produce different results than one dominated by carbon or another non metallic element. Another reason for the disparity could be that the comets had traditionally had their home at different regions of the solar system and thereby been charged differently.

    Given these factors, any criticism of the Electric Universe proponents is both ill-informed and misguided, by not considering these electric properties, and making broad generalizations of the objects under study…. Could be considered “bad astronomy”

  23. GeeBee

    Dave and TonyM, my carpool partner always wishes out loud for a pair of twin paintball guns, mounted like the Browning machine guns in James Bond’s car in “Goldfinger”.

  24. dompenne
  25. Jdoc

    If you can clearly see the comet approach the sun and, if it did not hit the sun, why then would you not see the comet return from behind the sun?

  26. It was just a LIZARD….. and was shot with the air-gun…..

    before it could have tantra sex with the sun….. and cause CME……

    Did I do something wrong ?….. Did I hurt anyone ?…. Maybe I just saved myself….

  27. Well then I am also the sun, as my third-eye shines through the sun in the heaven…..

    Maybe it was a job well done…..

  28. Are you also not aware ?…. that little things that crawl up into home yours are there to hurt you…. and do things dirty to you & your family….. Just keep your home/work-place clean from all pests…..

    It was not just co-incidence….. many beings were bothering us after the SOHO satellite feed was left in the public domain…. But normally we don’t hurt little beings….. But there was much mayhem in the year 2005-2008…. and we switched over to the little help from propane torch, vacuum cleaner & pest control….. and you don’t see much activity now….

    But then people are still blind & bad….. most sent us bad vibes & still do….. and most now live with corrupt mind….. but then we too exist….. and figured out a way to save ourselves…. It is still about pestilence….. and staying away from alien (non-human) species to save your soul & lives……

    Now you folks must warn others not to say bad things about us ever….. or they might get hurt in the defensive program…. but must blame themselves for indulging in unprovoked star wars…..

    And yes the solar thing heats up the planet earth, coz even I have to work….. But then I have the first right to exist, being the first citizen of the solar system…..

    I am working out something….. to switchover to idle activity, so that my activity does not cause global warming or whatever…… but then people have been programmed not to listen ever…. Most take pride in the Gods (Ghosts of the Dead)….. and some even sing JESUS LIZARD **** THE SUN, but why ?….. people from other faith are no better….. they too raise them & fire them at everyone in sight….. and NASA planning to crash a bus into the sun, why ?…..

    Are they aware that their cheap LCROSS mission has scarred a women down here….. the stars up there are just our third-eye/inner consciousness shining up there…..

    I do feel like suing them…. but it was easy to forgive…..

  29. KB

    Electro magnetic waves change prior to an explosion/event, my thoughts would indicate that… in the system the commet was both influnced by the change, and part of the change, and in the end both the sun and the commet were effected… in quite a grand manner. The effects of commets on any object in space depends on multiple facts, mass, compostion, and course…

  30. KaoS

    Pardon me, Sir. I’ve spotted my first typo.

    Still, it’s worth looking into, at least to build up a statistical case on way or the other.
    Still, it’s worth looking into, at least to build up a statistical case on(e) way or the other.

    Also, between the SOHO and STEREO links, there’s a missing comma.

  31. gene

    Thank you Phil. As a person who believes in certain aspects of the Electric Universe/Plasma Cosmology principles, it is refreshing that you made the statement that it is worth looking into a possible correlation. I have looked at many videos of this sort of occurrence, and it does appear at first glance that there may be a correlation. However, I would hope that professionals will be able to study it more and see if the correlation is real or imaginary.

  32. Dear Sir,

    And next time we make our move (???)…. we shall inform you….. You might also witness juices flying off on EIT304 images…. Now that will be a real CME….

    However the flares attached being reported lately are just due our interaction with the others down here…..

    And don’t worry, these little events ain’t ever killed anyone…. maybe every star (person/ family down here) has similar experiences….. But I get bored being watched by strangers in the heavens above….


  33. Justin

    Has anyone found any update on this??

    I would think it is not coincidence if you think that energy is always conserved. A heavy comet traveling at high speeds has a tremendous amount of energy. That energy has to go somewhere and as the suns heat is used to disintegrate the comet that’s also a lot of energy.

    You would think it might have some effect on the sun right?

  34. jeff

    they say im crazy, who is the I, is the sun an I ? crazy love for its planets, they never leave it, crazy for its love.
    Like a mother, love, and sometimes anger, especially when someone f@@@s around in the room your kids are playin in!
    Watch the video again using the consciousness beyond your logical analytical minds, FEEL what happens……………………try and see through your conditioning so it melts away like a comet approaching the sun.


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