In a rare celestial spectacle, two comets have been observed plunging into the Sun's atmosphere in close succession, on June 1 and 2. This unusual event on Earth's own star was followed on June 2 by a likely unrelated but also dramatic ejection of solar gas and magnetic fields on the southwest (or lower right) limb of the Sun.
The observations of the comets and the large erupting prominence were made by the LASCO coronagraph on ESA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft. Science instruments on SOHO have discovered more than 50 comets, including many so-called sun grazers, but none in such close succession. The eruption of solar gas was directed away from Earth and does not pose a hazard to our planet or orbiting astronauts.
Selected images and an image sequence of the new observations can be found on the World Wide Web at the SOHO Website: http://umbra.nascom.nasa.gov/comets/SOHO_sungrazers.html
The SOHO mission is a joint undertaking of ESA and NASA. Development of the LASCO instrument was coordinated by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. Dr. Donald Michels of the LASCO science team led the team that observed this rare phenomenon.
For further information, please contact : ESA Public Relations Division Tel: +33(0)220.127.116.11.55 Fax: +33(0)18.104.22.168.90