Click to view a SOHO coronagraph movie of the solar flyby
Astronomers have long known that some comets like it hot. Several of the greatest comets in history have flown close to the sun, puffing themselves up with solar heat, before they became naked-eye wonders in the night sky.
Some comets like it hot, but Comet ISON was not one of them.
The much-anticipated flyby of the sun by Comet ISON on Thanksgiving Day 2013 is over, and instead of becoming a Great Comet….
"Comet ISON fell apart," reports Karl Battams of NASA's Comet ISON Observing Campaign. “The fading remains are now invisible to the human eye.”
At first glance this might seem like a negative result, but Battams says “rather than mourn what we have lost, we should perhaps rejoice in what we have gained—some of the finest data in the history of cometary astronomy.”
On the morning of Nov. 28th, expectations were high as ISON neared perihelion, or closest approach to the sun. The icy comet already had a riotous tail 20 times wider than the full Moon and a head bright enough to see in the pre-dawn eye with the unaided eye. A dose of solar heat could transform this good comet into a great one.
During the flyby, more than 32,000 people joined Battams and other solar scientists on a Google+ Hangout. Together they watched live images from a fleet of solar observatories including the twin STEREO probes, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, and SOHO. As Comet ISON approached the sun it brightened and faded again.
"That might have been the disintegration event," says Matthew Knight of NASA's Comet ISON Observing Campaign.
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