Friday, November 29, 2013

Comet ISON: Is the Comet of the Century Dead or Still Alive?

So did Comet ISON survive its close approach with the sun? ISON known as the Comet of the Century was supposed to pass a little more than a million miles above the surface of the sun but judging from the video above, the comet's nucleus apparently disintegrated while it was entering the solar atmosphere. But before we can say RIP ISON, surprisingly, something miraculously happened. Something appeared at the other end of its orbit out of the sun!

What does this all mean? Scientists who are previously quick to announce that ISON was dead, are now busy scratching their heads for an answer. We may get some answers in a few days or so but I thought since I've been observing and studying comets for many years, let me try to explain what could be happening to ISON.

1) Comet ISON did disintegrate while it was flying close to the sun during perihelion, leaving a trail of dust.

2) This tail looks like the dusty remains of the comet, pushed out by sunlight after the nucleus evaporated.

3) If the nucleus is no more, then technically Comet ISON is dead. There are other examples of sun grazing comets such as the Great Southern Comet of 1887 which was also "headless" but still appeared as a bright naked eye object for a few days before it rapidly fades.

4) A crucial thing to note. If Comet ISON's nucleus is intact then its tail should be pointing away from the sun as the nucleus of the comet emits volatiles like gas and dust due to sublimation. If you watch the video, you would see that this is not happening.

5) Another scenario - a bit more interesting - is that a small fragment of Comet ISON did survive the close flyby of the sun. This fragment emerged from the Sun with a small nucleus that is beginning to emit dust and gas and growing a tail. If this is true then over the next few hours and days, we should be seeing this tail grow and then point to its proper direction away from the sun.

Update: Here's a latest unprocessed pic that shows that whatever is left of Comet ISON is trying very hard to put on some sort of a show. Fingers crossed!

Update: Watch this video of Comet ISON Time Lapse Around the Sun. It shows the comet or some parts of it survived the close fly-by with the sun.

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