Cal Scientists Stumble Upon Solar First

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Tina Antoine
    Beautiful sunset in Del Mar!

    Physicists from Cal did a little solar sleuthing and are being credited to a solar system first.

    Four post-doctoral fellows at UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory tracked a comet on its approach to the sun.  They also tracked its ultimate evaporation at the 100,000-degree heat.

    You can see images from both sides of the sun at this link.

    "We believe this is the first time a comet has been tracked in 3-D space this low down in the solar corona," said researcher Claire Raftery.

    The team used instruments aboard NASA's twin STEREO spacecrafts, which orbit the sun in tandem and therefore provided the 3-D view.

    Sungrazing comets aren't often found so close to the sun because their brightness is overwhelmed by the solar disk.  This one made it through that torture before coming to its ultimate demise.

    Another member of the team, Juan Carlos Martinez-Oliveros, said the comet casually caught his attention back in March. 

    He then got three of his friends, Raftery, Samuel Krucker and Pascal Saint-Hilaire to help him track the thing using NASA's cameras.

    The four usually track things that explode from the sun, but in this case decided to study something that was coming from the other direction.  The researchers' detour into cometary physics was purely accidental, they said.

    "It was supposed to be an exercise, but it took over our lives," Raftery said.

    They seemed a little surprised how well their tracking plan worked. Read here for all the mathematical details. 

    Lori Preuitt is amazed what she is forced to figure out during her work day. Today -- solar physics.