No light show expected from Comet ISON


Comet ISON, left, flew near the sun in late November, when it likely broke into smaller pieces. (NASA/Associated Press)

Did Comet ISON survive its brush with the sun? Several days after the comet made its closest approach to our nearest star, the scientific consensus is “probably not.”

Yes, something survived ISON’s Thanksgiving Day encounter with the sun. Most scientists believe it was not a comet with a nucleus, but rather a collection of pebbles and dust — the rocky remains of the comet from the Oort cloud.

Karl Battams, an astronomer who has been chronicling ISON’s journey toward the sun for NASA, published an obituary for the comet Monday.

“Tragically, on Nov. 28, 2013, ISON’s tenacious ambition outweighed its ability, and our shining green candle in the solar wind began to burn out,” he wrote.

Physicist Alex Young told the Los Angeles Times that he and his colleagues were “pretty certain that it’s gone.” Young said it was likely that the ice that held the bits of rock and dust that made up ISON burned up during the comet’s closest encounter with the sun. With that ice gone, ISON is nothing more than rocky debris.

Young said the rocky remnants would travel along the comet’s orbital path for a while, but much of it would spread into space, pushed away by solar particles streaming off the sun.

The Hubble telescope will take a look at whatever remains of the comet in mid-December, once it has moved away from the sun a bit, and at that point astronomers should have a clearer idea. But dreams of a dazzling light show are almost certainly dashed.

— MCT Information Services

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