Solar Orbiter will fly through the tail of a comet disintegrating in the end of may

The European Solar Orbiter probe at the end of may will fly through the tail of a long-period comet C/2019 Y4. First apparatus closer to the ion plume, and a week later crosses and the dust tail. If the astronomers are correct, the researchers can collect new data and to better understand the processes that occur with comets. Preprint of article available at arXiv.org.

Station Solar Orbiter was launched on 10 February 2020. Its main task is monitoring of the Sun, in particular coronal poles of the star mass ejections and the formation of prominences, as well as the study of the inner heliosphere. On Board Solar Orbiter includes a set of ten scientific instruments, among which was included the sec, magnetometer, detectors of charged particles and system of obtaining images. All the tools are hidden behind multi-layered heat shield that will shelter them from flows of charged particles.

Comet C / 2019 Y4 (ATLAS) detected by the automated system Asteroid Terrestrial-Impact Last Alert System at the end of last year, reaches nearest to the Sun point in early may. She comes to the star at a distance of 37.8 million kilometers — that is, to be closer than mercury. Observations show that is now the nucleus of the comet broke into several fragments and this process still goes on. However, the comet is still active and there is a chance that she will survive the close approach to the Sun, although the rate of emission of gas and dust will be lower than expected by astronomers.

Gerent Jones (Geraint Jones) from University College London and his colleagues have calculated that the spacecraft, Solar Orbiter will fly behind the comet on 31 may or 1 June. The distance between the facilities will be about 30 million kilometers. The station will be able to pass both the tail C / 2019 Y4 — ion, which consists of electrically charged particles and dust — which will enable her to study discarded the heavenly body substance. In particular, astronomers hope that with the help of the obtained data they will be able to determine the characteristics of dust grains, for example, to assess their weight or even could not be exposed to the strong influence of the material, as well as to explore the structure of the ion tail and to determine whether it passes through the shock wave which is formed when the comet moves through the solar wind.

Solar Orbiter now is in the stage of commissioning, which will end only on June 15 that it is too late to rendezvous with a comet. However, testing of some scientific tools — in particular, the magnetometer, the detector of charged particles and device for studying the electromagnetic fields can be completed for the right moment.

Solar Orbiter is not the first device which will study the comet. For example, last interplanetary station “Rosetta” for two years studied the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko and even landed on its surface module, which managed to collect scientific data to loss contact with him.

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