Set the controls for the heart of the Sun

Click on the image below to view a movie of a comet from the Kreutz sun-grazing family plunge head first into our neighbourhood star…


Just as the comet impacted on 11 May 2011, a massive coronal mass ejection, or solar flare, erupted from the solar surface. So was this explosion caused by the cometary impact (actually, its vaporisation around a million kilometres above the surface)? No, it was a coincidence, yet despite numerous cautionary explanations littering the Interwebs, there is no shortage of video reposters and commenters insisting that the comet caused the explosion.

A couple figures, by way of illustration…

Mass of Sun: 2 × 1030 kg
Mass of comet: ~1011 kg

In more prosaic terms, the Sun is ten billion billion, or ten quintillion, times the size of the comet.

How on Earth or anywhere else could a comet, which weighs virtually nothing in comparison with the Sun, cause a billion-tonne bubble of hot plasma to be ejected with a speed of 400 kilometres per second? And more importantly, perhaps, how do we get across to others, and convince ourselves, that first appearances are rarely to be trusted?