Scientists find signs Comet ISON may have survived flyby of the sun

Dec 01, 2013 by Monte Morin

Has Comet ISON survived its suicidal flyby of the sun? Scientists expected the dirty snowball to break apart as it flew within 730,000 miles of the sun on Thanksgiving, but NASA reported Friday that its nucleus may have survived.

"As ISON appeared to dim and fizzle in several observatories and later could not be seen at all by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory or by ground based solar observatories, many scientists believed it had disintegrated completely," read a NASA statement.

"However, a streak of bright material streaming away from the sun appeared in the European Space Agency and NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory later in the evening. The question remains whether it is merely debris from the comet, or if some portion of the comet's survived, but late-night analysis from scientists with NASA's Comet ISON Observing Campaign suggest that there is at least a small nucleus intact," NASA said.

Earthlings have been tracking the comet's journey for more than a year after Russian astronomers first spotted the brilliant object. Nearly two dozen spacecraft, including NASA's Hubble and Spitzer telescopes, have trained their eyes on ISON and eagerly awaited its date with oblivion - or not.

"We are all standing side by side as we witness a complete scientific mystery unfold before us," astrophysicist Karl Battams, NASA's primary Comet ISON blogger, wrote in a post this week. "We have absolutely no idea if ISON will survive past the sun or not, and how it might look in our December night skies, if it ever gets that far."

When ISON passed by Mars, instruments aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter measured its nucleus as about two-thirds of a mile across, relatively small by comet standards. The nucleus is made of ice and space dust.

The originated from the distant, icy reaches of the solar system, in a region known as the Oort Cloud, scientists say. Its journey began an estimated 5 { million years ago. On Thursday it encountered temperatures of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit as it reached perihelion, the point at which its orbit would have been closest to the sun.

Explore further: Don't blink or you might miss the leap second on Tuesday

Related Stories

Image: Comet ISON on Thanksgiving Day

Nov 29, 2013

Comet ISON has moved quite close to the sun as seen by from ESA/NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory captured at 10:51 a.m. EST on Nov. 28, 2013.

SOHO shows new images of Comet ISON

Nov 27, 2013

As Comet ISON heads toward its closest approach to the sun—known as perihelion—on Nov. 28, 2013, scientists have been watching through many observatories to see if the comet has already broken up under ...

Recommended for you

Early Titan was a cold, hostile place for life

18 hours ago

Titan is a mysterious orange-socked moon of Saturn that is exciting to astrobiologists because it has some of the same kinds of chemicals that were precursors to life on Earth. It also has a hydrological ...

Image: Spirals in Saturn's D Ring

19 hours ago

Although the D ring of Saturn is so thin that it's barely noticeable compared to the rest of the ring system, it still displays structures seen in other Saturnian rings. Here the spiral structures in the ...

Russian cosmonaut sets record for most time in space

19 hours ago

Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who is the current commander of the International Space Station, has set a new record for most time spent in space, with a total of 803 days, Russian space agency said Tuesday.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

pandora4real
not rated yet Dec 01, 2013
This guy had is sussed out on Thanksgiving Day- so much for the experts. https://twitter.c...78856961
VendicarE
Dec 02, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.