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Comet Lovejoy’s Spiral Tail

SPIRAL COMET TAIL: As Comet Lovejoy recedes intact from its Dec. 16th close encounter with the sun, researchers are pondering a mystery: What made the comet’s tail wiggle so wildly in transit through the sun’s atmosphere? The effect is clear in this sequence of extreme UV images recorded by NASA’s STEREO-B spacecraft:

Why the wiggles?” wonders Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab. “We’re not sure. There might be some kind of helical motion going on. Perhaps we’re seeing material in the tail magnetically ‘clinging’ to coronal loops and moving with them. [Coronal loops are huge loops of magnetism that emerge from the sun’s surface and thread the sun’s atmosphere.] There are other possibilities too, and we will certainly investigate those!”

Battams notes that these images can be combined with similar images from STEREO-A on the other side of the sun to produce a three dimensional picture. “When we pair these together, and throw in the SDO images too, we should be able to get an incredibly unique 3-D picture of how this comet is reacting the the intense coronal heat and magnetic loops. We are going to learn a lot.”

…(Space Weather)

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December 18, 2011 - Posted by | Space | , , , ,

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