Images acquired by SECCHI/HI-1 telescope aboard the solar-observing STEREO-B spacecraft have revealed strange streaming clumps from unusually dusty Comet C/2011 L4 (Pan-STARRS). This discovery could hold secrets to how comets create their beautiful, sweeping, striated tails.
"I was looking at Coronal Mass Ejections and stumbled into this," said Nour E. Raouafi, who conducts his research at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) in Laurel, Maryland. “This comet came into the field of view and it was amazing.”
Pan-STARRS is likely a new comet on its first trip to the inner solar system from the Oort cloud, where comets in the Solar System originate, Raouafi said. Studying the comet provides scientists a rare opportunity to monitor the composition and dynamics of a relatively pristine comet, he said.
Raouafi noticed the comet had strange clumps that appeared to be blowing in the solar wind straight off the nucleus of the comet. He asked for advice from JHUAPL astrophysicist Casey Lisse, who was impressed with what he saw.
“This is about one of the dustiest comets we’ve ever seen,” said Lisse. “It’s really bright. It has really given us a show.”
The images were put together to make a movie that shows the creation of the comet tail and reveals the dynamic clumps pouring off the nucleus like smoke from a blown-out candle.
Original video courtesy of N. E. Raouafi et al.
The dustiness make it an unprecedented laboratory for studying how comets grow their tails, said the researchers, who are authors of a new study detailing the findings in Journal of Geophysical Research-Space Physics, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.
More information can be found at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10…
Featured image credit: N.E. Raouafi et al.
If you value what we do here, create your ad-free account and support our journalism.
Your support makes a difference
Dear valued reader,
We hope that our website has been a valuable resource for you.
The reality is that it takes a lot of time, effort, and resources to maintain and grow this website. We rely on the support of readers like you to keep providing high-quality content.
If you have found our website to be helpful, please consider making a contribution to help us continue to bring you the information you need. Your support means the world to us and helps us to keep doing what we love.
Support us by choosing your support level – Silver, Gold or Platinum. Other support options include Patreon pledges and sending us a one-off payment using PayPal.
Thank you for your consideration. Your support is greatly appreciated.