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Posted at 01:05 PM ET, 10/04/2011

Watch: comet collides with sun, then solar blast

You don’t see this every day. On Saturday, a newly discovered comet crashed into the sun. Moments later, the sun unleashed a massive coronal mass ejection (CME), or blast of solar wind.

Watch the video below from NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory:

Were these two events related? SpaceWeather.com offers the following commentary:

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.

It then notes a similar series of events occurred back on July 5, leading it to ask:

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.

NASA says such a cause and effect chain is “intriguing” but, like SpaceWeather.com, concludes it was most likely a coincidence:

At this stage of the solar cycle, the Sun is producing many mass ejections--in fact there were several earlier in the day--and it probably just happened by chance that one of them was around the same time as the approach of the comet. Some researchers have been looking for a more direct relationship, but nothing as yet has come out of these efforts.

Additional reading:

Comet smashes into the sun; massive explosion ensues (VIDEO) (WJLA)
The comet and the Coronal Mass Ejection (Discover Magazine, Bad Astronomy)

By  |  01:05 PM ET, 10/04/2011

Categories:  Latest, Space, Astronomy

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