Comet ISON may have survived encounter with sun

Via NASA: "ISON appears as a white smear heading up and away from the sun. ISON was not visible during its closest approach to the sun, so many scientists thought it had disintegrated, but images like this one from the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory suggest that a small nucleus may be intact." (ESA/NASA/SOHO/GSFC)

Via NASA: “ISON appears as a white smear heading up and away from the sun. ISON was not visible during its closest approach to the sun, so many scientists thought it had disintegrated, but images like this one from the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory suggest that a small nucleus may be intact.” (ESA/NASA/SOHO/GSFC)

Comet ISON is down, but may not be out.

As the comet nose-dived through sun’s atmosphere Thanksgiving Day, it disappeared for a time, leaving some to assume ISON was history.

Video: Animation showing ISON’s disappearance during solar encounter

But later, imagery revealed at least parts of the comet made it through the searing voyage.

Video: Animation showing ISON’s emergence after solar encounter

NASA’s ISON campaign blog offers this detailed account, which posits ISON has emerged with a nucleus and tail:

As comet ISON plunged towards to the Sun, it began to fall apart, losing not giant fragments but at least a lot of reasonably sized chunks. There’s evidence of very large dust in the form of that long thin tail we saw in the LASCO C2 images. Then, as ISON plunged through the corona, it continued to fall apart and vaporize, and lost its coma and tail completely just like Lovejoy did in 2011. . . . Then, what emerged from the Sun was a small but perhaps somewhat coherent nucleus, that has resumed emitting dust and gas for at least the time being. In essence, the tail is growing back, as Lovejoy’s did.

The ISON campaign blog stresses its interpretation of what’s happening with ICON could be wrong.

“We have a whole new set of unknowns, and this ridiculous, crazy, dynamic and unpredictable object continues to amaze, astound and confuse us to no end,” the blog says.

No one knows, as it loops back towards Earth, whether it will still remain or be visible.

“At this point all I can say is the same thing I’ve been saying all along: predicting comets is like predicting cats,” writes Phil Plait at the Bad Astronomy blog. “Good luck with that.”

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