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Comet Tail Torn Off
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Comet Tail Torn Off

October 2, 2007

NASA's STEREO satellite captured the first images ever of a collision between a solar "hurricane", called a coronal mass ejection (CME), and a comet. The collision caused the complete detachment of the comet's plasma tail.

This series of four still images were taken from a visualization of Comet Encke flying through the solar storm as witnessed by the STEREO satellite. Note Encke's tail being torn off by the coronal mass ejection in the third still above.

Comets are icy leftovers from the solar system's formation billions of years ago. They usually hang out in the cold, distant regions of the solar system, but occasionally a gravitational tug from a planet, another comet, or even a nearby star sends them into the inner solar system. Once there, the sun's heat and radiation vaporizes gas and dust from the comet, forming its tail. Comets typically have two tails, one made of dust and a fainter one made of electrically conducting gas, called plasma.



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