NRL LASCO Instrument Observes Comet Approaching the Sun

5/2/1996 - 61-96r
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Comet Hyakutake enters the hostile neighborhood of the sun in this picture taken by scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). NRL's Large Angle Spectrometric Coronagraph (LASCO) instrument took this image on May 1. LASCO which is orbiting one million miles away between the sun and the Earth, is being carried onboard the European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).

The sun displays one of its large ejections of hot, ionized gases in the left part of the picture. These solar mass ejections are part of the solar wind. After travelling for 3 to 4 days, they can hit the Earth and cause disturbances in the magnetosphere, resulting in brilliant auroras. Hot ionized gases are trapped in the equatorial plane of the sun. They have been blown out by this explosion and show up as empty black streaks. The bright ring ring in the center of the picture marks the diameter of the visible sun. (The bright point-like features in this picture are hits by high energetic cosmic ray particles on the detector of the camera. There is no protection from them at the location of the orbit of SOHO.)

Scientists at NRL are looking forward to Hyakutake's passage through the equatorial plane of the sun, where the solar wind interacts with the comet's tail. (Scientists in the U.S., Germany, France and the United Kingdom are involved in the LASCO project.)

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