EDP Sciences
Free access
Volume 477, Number 3, January III 2008
Page(s) L41 - L44
Section Letters
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:20078902

A&A 477, L41-L44 (2008)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20078902


Folding ion rays in comet C/2004 Q2 (Machholz) and the connection with the solar wind

P. Degroote1, D. Bodewits2, 3, and M. Reyniers1

1  Instituut voor Sterrenkunde, Departement Natuurkunde en Sterrenkunde, KU Leuven, Celestijnenlaan 200D, 3001 Leuven, Belgium
    e-mail: [pieter.degroote;maarten.reyniers]@ster.kuleuven.be
2  KVI atomic physics, University of Groningen, Zernikelaan 25, 9747AA Groningen, The Netherlands
    e-mail: bodewits@kvi.nl
3  NASA Postdoctoral Fellow, Goddard Space Flight Center, Solar System Exploration Division, Mailstop 693, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA
    e-mail: dennis.bodewits@ssedmail.gsfc.nasa.gov

(Received 23 October 2007 / Accepted 26 November 2007)

Aims.The appearance of folding ion rays in cometary comae is still not very well understood, so our aim is to gain more insight into the role of the local solar wind in the formation of these structures.
Methods.Comet C/2004 Q2 (Machholz) was intensively monitored during its closest approach to Earth (January 2005) with the CCD camera Merope mounted on the Flemish 1.2 m Mercator telescope, in three different bands (Geneva U and B and Cousins I). Spectacular ion rays, thin ionic structures rapidly folding tailward, were recorded in the U band during one night, January 12th.
Results.Data from the SOHO satellite that was extrapolated corotationally to the position of the comet showed that the ion rays were formed during a sudden change in the in situ solar wind state. We were able to succesfully correlate a high-speed solar wind stream with the appearance of folding ion rays.
Conclusions.To our knowledge, this is the first clear observational evidence that folding ion rays in cometary comae are produced by a sudden change in the local solar wind state.

Key words: comets: individual: C/2004 Q2 (Machholz) -- comets: general -- Sun: solar wind

© ESO 2008