First-Ever Observations of Comet’s Demise Inside Solar Atmosphere
Image: C/2007 Lulin N3
In a paper to be published tomorrow in the journal Science, for the first time ever scientists at the Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory (LMSAL) at the Advanced Technology Center (ATC) in Palo Alto, and collaborators at other institutions, have reported observations and analysis of the final death throes of a comet, as it passed across the face of the Sun on July 6, 2011, to vanish in flight.
Using observations from the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) instrument on board NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), the comet was first seen about 0.2 solar radii off the limb of the Sun, travelling at nearly 400 miles per second and was tracked for 20 minutes until it disintegrated and evaporated in the low solar corona, about 62,000 miles above the solar surface.
The Extreme-Ultraviolet Imager (EUVI), on one of NASA’s twin Solar-Terrestrial Relations Observatories (STEREO), made simultaneous additional observations of the comet’s passage from its near-quadrature view relative to the Sun-Earth line.
The comet was discovered on July 4, 2011 by using the Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph (LASCO) on the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), and was designated comet C/2011 N3 (SOHO). It was the SOHO discovery that alerted Lockheed Martin scientists to watch the AIA data stream for the comet’s likely transit across the face of the Sun.