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A coronal mass ejection of the Sun makes a comet wag its 'tail': scientists spotted an unusual space phenomenon for the first time. Video

Dmytro IvancheskulNews
In December 2020, Comet Erasmus was closest to the Sun

A coronal mass ejection of the Sun made Comet Erasmus (C/2020 S3) wag its 'tail', deflecting it by 30 degrees on either side of the direction of travel. The unusual phenomenon was witnessed by astronomers who observed the comet's space journey.

This is stated in a study published on the arXiv preprint site. The researchers' work is still pending review by the scientific community.

Comet C/2020 S3, also called Erasmus, was discovered in September 2020 as it was rushing toward the inner solar system. By December 2020, it had reached its closest approach to the Sun, just outside Mercury's orbit.

Comets are relatively small icy objects that hurtle through our solar system at high speed. As they approach the Sun, their cold bodies begin to heat up and release a stream of gas and dust known as a tail.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, observed the comet using solar telescopes aboard the STEREO-A and SOHO spacecraft, tracking its path near the Sun.

It was then that they saw the amazing behavior of the comet's tail, which lasted for a 34-hour period when the comet was closest to the Sun. During the observation, the scientists found that the tail deviated from the main trajectory of the comet by 30 degrees. The deviation occurred in both directions relative to the comet's motion.

"We saw that the tail had a very wide sweep. This was unusual," said Jing Li, one of the authors of the article, an associate researcher at the University of California.

According to her, this behavior was most likely caused by an eruption of plasma and radiation from the Sun's surface, known as a coronal mass ejection.

The researchers calculated that the speed of the coronal mass ejection that hit Comet Erasmus reached an average of 205.5 kilometers per second.

Comet Erasmus and its tail

Importantly, this is not just an interesting observation. It could potentially have scientific value. Scientists suggest that more observations of this phenomenon could help astronomers learn more about the space weather in the region close to our sun.

"The study shows that it is possible to use comets as solar wind probes," explained Dennis Bodewits of Auburn University in Alabama.

In the past, it was difficult to measure the properties of the solar wind very close to the Sun because it was difficult to send spacecraft there. Researchers can observe comets flying past the Sun once or twice a year.

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