The ejection of the sun blows the tail of the approaching comet
A new comet on its way to Earth got a dose of the sun’s true power when a gust of solar wind blew its tail.
The comet, called C/2023 P1, or Nishimura, has been approaching the inner solar system since it was first spotted on Aug. 11 by Japanese amateur astronomer Hideo Nishimura, and is expected to be visible to the naked eye by the early to midday. September.
As it approached the sun this week, the solar wind hit it, disrupting its distinctive tail, according to spaceweather.com.
“The comet is like a dirty snowball,” said Keith Horne, a professor of astronomy at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. Newsweek earlier this year. “Comets and planets orbit the sun, but unlike the circular orbits of the planets, comets follow highly elliptical orbits.”
As the comet moves toward the sun, it is followed by a trail of dust and ice ejected as it heats up.
“This leaves it with a lot of loose particles, both charged and neutral, that drift away from it as it moves,” Ian Whitaker, senior lecturer in physics at Nottingham Trent University in the UK, said earlier. Newsweek. “Neutral particles shoot out in a cone behind the comet as it moves — kind of like being behind a big truck on the highway in a downpour, with all the excess water hitting whatever is directly behind it.”
“Charged particles will do the same thing unless there are any nearby electric or magnetic fields,” Whitaker said. “The sun itself has a magnetic dipole (like the Earth) and has a magnetic field flowing into the solar system. So charged particles coming from the comet are captured by this magnetic field and sent directly away from the sun (anti-sun).”
The comet experienced a coronal mass ejection – or CME – from the sun on Sept. 2, tearing its tail from its head in what’s known as a “separation event,” according to spaceweather.com.
The exact mechanism behind this event is still not clear to astronomers, but the solar wind in the form of a coronal coronal emission appears to be involved. The coronal ejection that struck the comet this week was likely from active sunspot AR3413, which faces the comet.
The comet’s tail has already grown back, but it may be shed again as it experiences more coronal emission in the coming weeks.
Nishimura is scheduled to approach its closest point to Earth on September 12, at a distance of 27 million miles. About a week later, on September 17, the comet will pass close to the Sun and will appear brightest in the night sky, in the constellation Virgo.
The comet is expected to be visible to the naked eye in the coming days: as of September 4, the comet has a magnitude of about 6, which is the threshold for its visibility without optical aids such as binoculars or a telescope. Lower positive magnitudes and larger negative magnitudes translate to brighter objects, with Venus having a magnitude of -5, and the full moon -13. Nishimura is expected to shine with a magnitude of 2 or 3 by the time it reaches its closest point to the sun.
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