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Coronal Mass Ejection: Explosion Occurs Moments After Comet Hits Sun, Scientists Say It's Coincidence

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The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), a satellite monitoring the sun, caught an amazing scene over the weekend: A comet slammed into the sun, and then, a few minutes later, a solar explosion occurred.

The video, created by a sequence of images and available above, could be out of a Hollywood blockbuster. It shows a fiery comet approaching and appearing to collide with the sun and, seconds after the collision, the sun emits a huge blast from the other side.

The video creates the impression that the comet is somehow related to the explosion, which is called a coronal mass ejection, or CME.

But scientists say the two events aren't actually linked.

According to a blogpost from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, "...there still remains zero evidence for a link between sungrazing comets and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that can't be better explained than by simple coincidence."

Dr. Phil Plait, an astronomer who writes Discover Magazine's Bad Astronomy blog, explains in a video and post why this is most likely a coincidence. (Video available below.)

According to Dr. Plait, these type of comets, called sungrazers, constantly get close to the surface of the sun, sometimes hitting the surface or becoming absorbed. At the same time, he explains, coronal mass ejections are frequently occurring on the Sun, even when there aren't any comets colliding with it.

To support this, Dr. Plait shows three videos of the incident taken by three different satellites. The different angle of one of NASA's STEREO satellites shows a coronal mass ejection occurring before the comet even makes its way to the sun. A third video, from images taken by another STEREO satellite, shows that the comet could have even missed the sun.

"At this stage of the solar cycle," writes Karen C. Fox at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, "the sun is producing many mass ejections -- in fact there were several earlier in the day -- and it is only chance that one of them burst off the sun at the same time the comet approached."

This was the 2,143 comet that the SOHO satellite has recorded, according to the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

Comets colliding with the sun in May and September also produced some spectacular videos.

Video at top courtesy of ESA/NASA/LASCO C2

For more on the collision -- and the coincidence -- be sure to check out The Bad Astronomer's blog post.

WATCH: The Comet and the Coronal Mass Ejection, from The Bad Astronomer.

Around the Web

Coronal mass ejection - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

NASA's Cosmicopia -- Sun - Solar Activity - Coronal Mass Ejections

Coronal Mass Ejections - NASA/Marshall Solar Physics

NASA - Spacecraft Observes Coronal Mass Ejection

Here Comes the Sun: Coronal Mass Ejection Headed for Earth ...

Coronal Mass Ejections

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