Comet ISON Appears to Have Broken Up

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Published on: November 28, 2013

Comet ISON did not survive its close passage around the Sun. Only its tail emerged from perihelion. The comet’s head had vanished, and then its massive dust and debris tail evaporated almost completely.


 

Comet ISON
In this frame grab taken from enhanced video made by NASA’s STEREO-A spacecraft, comet ISON, left, approaches the sun on Nov. 25, 2013. Comet Encke is shown just below ISON, The sun is to the right, just outside the frame. ISON, which was discovered a year ago, is making its first spin around the sun and will come the closest to the super-hot solar surface on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, at 1:37 p.m. EST. (AP Photo/NASA)

Updates

4:45 p.m. CST: Watch the emergence of the headless debris tail from LASCO.

Comet_ISON_LASCO_c2_Nov28_anim
LASCO C2 camera frames, showing the comet’s head seeming shrink down to a point.
NASA / SOHO Consortium

3:10 p.m. CST: The LASCO C2 coronagraph saw only the barest trace of material come out from behind its Sun-occulting disk after perihelion.

2:30 p.m. CST: SDO’s scientists were able to extract nothing of the comet at all as it should have crossed SDO’s field of view at perihelion

1:00 p.m. CST: ISON is dying before our eyes! Just after perihelion, ISON’s head — which swelled to brilliance just hours ago — seems in the latest spacecraft images to have faded right down to nothing at all.

What’s left is a long, thick streamer of a dust tail. The tail is destined to be flung widely across the sky as it comes out the other side of the Sun — unless it vaporizes away first, which is possible and even likely.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft should have picked up the comet’s head now by now, in its narrower, zoomed-in view compared to SOHO’s. So far it is seeing nothing, nothing at all.

Seen at far right, Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) entered the field of the SOHO spacecraft's wide-angle coronagraph on November 26th. The dark-blue disk at center is a mask blocking the Sun (white circle). Billowing streamers are solar-wind ejections. UPDATE: More complete video with later frames, courtesy Babak Tafreshi. NASA / ESA / SOHO Consortium
Seen at far right, Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) entered the field of the SOHO spacecraft’s wide-angle coronagraph on November 26th. The dark-blue disk at center is a mask blocking the Sun (white circle). Billowing streamers are solar-wind ejections. UPDATE: More complete video with later frames, courtesy Babak Tafreshi.
NASA / ESA / SOHO Consortium

Images from NASA spacecraft showed Comet ISON approaching for its slingshot around the sun on Thursday, but nothing coming out on the other side.

In a Google+ hangout, U.S. Navy solar researcher Karl Battams said “ISON probably hasn’t survived this journey.”

Phil Plait, an astronomer who runs the “Bad Astronomy” blog, agreed, saying “I don’t think the comet made it.”

Still, he said, it wouldn’t be all bad news if the 4.5-billion-year-old rock broke up into pieces, because astronomers might be able to study the pieces and learn more about comets.

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