Comet Lovejoy danced too close to the Sun — but defied death!

December 17, 2011

Great pictures from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

A newly-discovered comet, Comet Lovejoy, orbited dangerously close to the Sun for a ball of ice.  Experts predicted it would be the last trip for the little planetoid.

But, then Lovejoy zoomed out from the other side of our home star.  Amazing.

See it for yourself:

How surprising was this?  Look at this earlier piece, inviting people to watch the end of the comet:

A wonderful fail, no?

See also:

Comet Lovejoy Plunges into the Sun and Survives

Dec. 16, 2011: This morning, an armada of spacecraft witnessed something that many experts thought impossible.  Comet Lovejoy flew through the hot atmosphere of the sun and emerged intact.

“It’s absolutely astounding,” says Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC.  “I did not think the comet’s icy core was big enough to survive plunging through the several million degree solar corona for close to an hour, but Comet Lovejoy is still with us.”

The comet’s close encounter was recorded by at least five spacecraft: NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and twin STEREO probes, Europe’s Proba2 microsatellite, and the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory.  The most dramatic footage so far comes from SDO, which saw the comet go in (movie) and then come back out again (movie).

Comet Lovejoy (exit splash, 512px)

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory caught Comet Lovejoy emerging from its scorching close encounter with the sun. [Entrance movie:Quicktime (22 MB), m4v (0.8 MB)] [Exit movie:Quicktime (26 MB), m4v (0.8 MB)]

In the SDO movies, the comet’s tail wriggles wildly as the comet plunges through the sun’s hot atmosphere only 120,000 km above the stellar surface. This could be a sign that the comet was buffeted by plasma waves coursing through the corona.  Or perhaps the tail was bouncing back and forth off great magnetic loops known to permeate the sun’s atmosphere.  No one knows.

“This is all new,” says Battams.  “SDO is giving us our first look1 at comets travelling through the sun’s atmosphere. How the two interact is cutting-edge research.”

Curiosity and the Solar Storm (signup)

“The motions of the comet material in the sun’s magnetic  field are just fascinating,” adds SDO project scientist Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center.   “The abrupt changes in direction reminded me of how the solar wind affected the tail of Comet Encke in 2007 (movie).”

Comet Lovejoy was discovered on Dec. 2, 2011, by amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy of Australia.  Researchers quickly realized that the new find was a member of the Kreutz family of sungrazing comets.  Named after the German astronomer Heinrich Kreutz, who first studied them, Kreutz sungrazers are fragments of a single giant comet that broke apart back in the 12th century (probably the Great Comet of 1106).  Kreutz sungrazers are typically small (~10 meters wide) and numerous. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory sees one falling into the sun every few days.

At the time of discovery, Comet Lovejoy appeared to be at least ten times larger than the usual Kreutz sungrazer, somewhere in the in the 100 to 200 meter range.  In light of today’s events, researchers are re-thinking those numbers.

Comet Lovejoy (coronagraph splash, 512px)

This coronagraph image from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory shows Comet Lovejoy receding from the sun after its close encounter. The horizontal lines through the comet’s nucleus are digital artifacts caused by saturation of the detector; Lovejoy that that bright! [movie]

“I’d guess the comet’s core must have been at least 500 meters in diameter; otherwise it couldn’t have survived so much solar heating,” says Matthew Knight. “A significant fraction of that mass would have been lost during the encounter. The remains are probably much smaller.”

SOHO and NASA’s twin STEREO probes are monitoring the comet as it recedes from the sun. It is still very bright and should remain in range of the spacecrafts’ cameras for several days to come.

What happens next is anyone’s guess.

“There is still a possibility that Comet Lovejoy will start to fragment,” continues Battams. “It’s been through a tremendously traumatic event; structurally, it could be extremely weak. On the other hand, it could hold itself together and disappear back into the recesses of the solar system.”

“It’s hard to say,” agrees Knight.  “There has been so little work on what happens to sungrazing comets after perihelion (closest approach).  This continues to be fascinating.”
Author:Dr. Tony Phillips| Production editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

More Information

Footnote:1“When SDO was launched we thought we would see nothing besides the Sun and the dark disks of the Moon, Earth, Venus, and Mercury in our images,” says SDO project scientist Dean Pesnell of GSFC. “No other bright object would be visible because our instruments are designed to look at the Sun. Now we are measuring the mass and composition of comets by turning the comet inside out.”

Bigger ditch + higher speed = (Greece X Russia)

December 17, 2011

What to do about the economic ditch the Republicans have driven the economy into?

Campaign aides to Ron Paul, Gary Johnson and Mitt Romney advocate finding a bigger ditch and hitting the gas pedal sooner and harder.

No, seriously:  Jon Huntsman’s economics advisor, a woman with years of experience working for a balanced budget, suggested that Paul’s proposal of cutting $1 trillion from spending in 2013 lacks a great connection to reality.  Aides to the other three, after taking another toke of godknowswhat, said they could do even more cutting.

It’s as if General Washington’s physicians, interviewed December 15, 1799, claimed they could have saved Washington’s life had they bled him two or three more times — but unfortunately, he was out of blood.

At a Wednesday panel discussion hosted by the America’s Future Foundation, a club of young libertarians and conservatives in Washington who meet regularly over beer to network and debate about politics, Jennifer Pollom, Huntsman’s economic director, joined campaign aides for Gary Johnson, Ron Paul and a former Mitt Romney staffer to discuss why their candidate would best represent conservatives as the presidential nominee of the Republican Party. The real fun (by D.C. standards) started when Jack Hunter, a blogger for Paul’s presidential campaign, touted his boss’s promise to slash $1 trillion from the federal budget.

“Having been on the Budget Committee and having worked in the federal government and in the Senate for quite a while, I think a trillion dollars is kind of ludicrous,” said Pollom, who formerly served as the counsel for the Senate Republican Policy Committee. “That’s my personal opinion, that is not the stance of Governor Huntsman. We’re more concerned about tax policy right now. We’re deeply concerned about the deficit and the debt, but we’re more concerned about jobs and freezing spending where it is right now.”

That didn’t play well with the representatives for Johnson and Paul, two of the most libertarian-leaning candidates in the race. (Johnson’s plan goes further than Paul’s. He has vowed to balance the budget in his first year, which would require cutting even more than $1 trillion.)

“To call that ludicrous is actually a little surprising because this idea that we can year after year continue to spend more money than we’re taking in, to me that actually seems to be the pretty ludicrous idea from a fiscally conservative perspective,” said panelist Jonathan Bydlak, the finance director for Johnson’s campaign.

“I personally think that cutting a trillion dollars in one year off the budget–I use ‘ludicrous’ sort of loosely–but I don’t think it’s practical,” Pollom said later during the panel. “It may be an excellent aspirational dream but speaking in the real world, I don’t know that it’s actually practically going to happen.”

That’s when Derek Khanna, a panelist who worked for Mitt Romney’s finance team in 2008, jumped in.

“The idea of one trillion is not ludicrous,” Khanna said, which prompted Pollom to put her finger to her head like she was pulling the trigger of a gun. “I think that the idea of saying that being able to balance the budget is ‘ludicrous’ is kind of disturbing. We’re all here saying we support the balanced-budget amendment, but in the end we won’t support cutting a trillion dollars. It seems to be a bit disingenuous.”

What in the world could these stooges be referring to in cutting?  I can see it now:  ‘What do we need Homeland Security for, anyway?  FAA doesn’t fly any airplanes — what could possibly happen if we just shut the agency down tomorrow?  Surely we don’t need more than one aircraft carrier, one for the Pacific, and one for the Atlantic — we don’t have any territory in the Southern, Indian, or Arctic Oceans.’

You can almost hear Ron Paul, wide-eyed, explaining:  ‘President Obama is hurting the energy industry.  BP found a way to quickly get millions of barrels of oil out of ground under the Gulf of Mexico, oil we need to run industry — but Obama made them stop!’

In other news, perhaps, The Onion is considering closing down — they can’t parody this stuff any more.

Obama’s right: Saving the nation is not “class warfare”

December 17, 2011

Ross Eisenbrey laid it out at the blog of the Economics Policy Institute:

The most important part of [President Obama’s] speech in Kansas was probably his attack on the “collective amnesia” that allows some people to continue advocating the Bush administration’s tax cuts for the rich, despite their clear history of failure as a spur to job creation. Obama said:

“Remember in those years, in 2001 and 2003, Congress passed two of the most expensive tax cuts for the wealthy in history. And what did it get us? The slowest job growth in half a century. Massive deficits that have made it much harder to pay for the investments that built this country and provided the basic security that helped millions of Americans reach and stay in the middle class — things like education and infrastructure, science and technology, Medicare and Social Security.”

The president pointed out the folly of pursuing the same kinds of failed “you’re on your own” economic policies that got us into the worst recession in 75 years. Weak regulation helped cause the Great Recession. Why would anyone expect the same policies to get us out?

“Remember that in those same years, thanks to some of the same folks who are now running Congress, we had weak regulation, we had little oversight, and what did it get us? Insurance companies that jacked up people’s premiums with impunity and denied care to patients who were sick, mortgage lenders that tricked families into buying homes they couldn’t afford, a financial sector where irresponsibility and lack of basic oversight nearly destroyed our entire economy.

We simply cannot return to this brand of ‘you’re on your own’ economics if we’re serious about rebuilding the middle class in this country.”

Unsurprisingly, the right wing media, led by Fox News, wants to take us right back to the kind of Bushonomics that crashed the economy in 2007. Progressive taxation doesn’t sit well with Fox’s high-income anchors, let alone its billionaire owner, Rupert Murdoch. As our friends at Media Matters document nicely, Fox immediately launched a broadside against the president and the notion of tax fairness, misquoting him when it was convenient, and accusing him of class warfare and socialism.

One might almost lament that Obama lacks opposition in the primaries; debates featuring Republicans drive sane thought off of the news pages.  None of the Republican candidates appears to subscribe to the free enterprise economics of Milton Friedman and/or Paul Samuelson, for example.  The radical right wing, experimental economics bandied about in the debates stands perpendicular to free market economics as practiced successfully in the U.S. and other places over the past 40 years — but with every Republican candidate so far out on the radical economic scale, it might appear to a non-careful reader that they speak Mainstream.

Wholly apart from the disastrous economics of “off-budget” warfare given to us by Republicans, the policies of Republicans gave us an economic disaster in 2008.  As a nation we have not moved far enough to correct those errors, and now Republicans block the action of the consumer protection agency designed to prevent another housing bubble to burst America’s economic dreams.

Polls show Americans don’t think Obama deserves a second term.  I find it hard to believe that a majority of voters will choose to go back to the disaster that Obama hasn’t been able to fix, however.  Americans are not quite that stupid, I hope.

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