Conflicting reports of comet's fate come in hours after flyby
Comet ISON seems to have emerged from its brush with the sun diminished but intact. The comet's closest approach, known as perihelion, occurred during the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day.
Several solar telescopes were watching for the comet (SN Online: 11/27/13). NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory did not capture ISON emerging from behind the sun, leading to initial reports that the comet had fizzled. But in the hours after perihelion, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, run by NASA and the European Space Agency, observed an object that researchers think is the comet's nucleus, according to NASA's latest updates.
Astronomers will watch closely in the coming days to see how much of ISON remains. If the comet has survived, earthbound observers will get their best view in early December.
But astronomers are still scratching their heads. Karl Battams, of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC, wrote in a blog post:
“We have no idea how big this nucleus is, if there is indeed one. If there is a nucleus, it is still too soon to tell how long it will survive. If it does survive for more than a few days, it is too soon to tell if the comet will be visible in the night sky. If it is visible in the night sky, it is too soon to say how bright it will be... “
K. Battams. Schrödinger's Comet. NASA Comet ISON Observing Campaign. Published online November 28, 2013.
G. Popkin. Comet ISON approaches sun for Thanksgiving flyby. Science News Online. November 27, 2013.
G. Popkin. Oort cloud tosses astronomers a cometary curveball. Science News. Vol. 184, November 16, 2013, p. 14.