In this video from the U.S Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Comet Lovejoy takes a death-defying journey through several-million degree solar corona as it passes the Sun on December 15th, 2011 (EST). The comet defied the expectations of many experts by not only surviving its solar plunge but re-emerging as strong and bright as before.
“It’s absolutely astounding,” says Karl Battams, computational scientist at NRL. “I did not think the comet’s icy core was big enough to survive plunging through the several million degree solar corona for close to an hour, but Comet Lovejoy is still with us.”
The imagery used for this video was gathered from NRL’s Sun-Earth Connection Coronal and Heliospheric Investigation (SECCHI)/EUVI-A instruments, which are a part of the NASA Solar Terrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) mission. STEREO consists of two space-based observatories – one ahead of Earth in its orbit, the other trailing behind. With this new pair of viewpoints, scientists are able to see the structure and evolution of solar storms as they blast from the Sun and move out through space.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, Comet Lovejoy was discovered on Dec. 2, 2011, by a citizen scientist — Terry Lovejoy of Australia. As it turns out, it’s not all that uncommon for comets to be discovered by citizen scientists from the public. For years, NRL’s Sungrazing Comets Project has asked people to help discover new comets.
If you’re interested in joining comet hunters around the world, check out the SOHO Comet Hunting Project.