The Sun may not be the Grinch but it appears to have stolen ‘comet of the century’ ISON. Why the gloom? The latest videos from the SOHO solar observatory are showing a rapidly fading, dissipating Comet ISON racing away from the Sun. Unfortunately, while the previous reports of the comet’s ‘death’ were quickly shown to be premature, this second demise looks to be for real.
Both astronomers and the general public went abuzz over Comet ISON thanks to a prediction released a year ago by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that stated that the comet could reach magnitude -11.6, or about as bright as the Full Moon. Additionally, besides being shadow-casting bright at night, the comet would be bright enough to easily be spotted during broad daylight. If Comet ISON were to become this bright, it would not be a first, but it would still be the astronomical event of the year should the JPL’s prediction come true.
See also: the brightest comets in history
It was on Thanksgiving that the comet made its close approach to the Sun, coming within a mere (in astronomical terms) 700,000 miles from our nearest star. Is is this close pass to the Sun, and the resultant melting of the comet that, according to optimistic estimates, could push Comet ISON to magnitude -11, or about as bright as the Full Moon. Unfortunately, though, the same mechanism that could make Comet ISON comet of the decade could also destroy it, which appeared to initially be the case Thursday after the comet reappeared on the other side of the Sun.. However, by Friday, ISON was brightening rapidly once again, so much so that there seemed a chance that it could live up to its ‘comet of the century’ billing.
Sadly, as of this writing, Comet ISON now appears to be disintegrating.
So, what could have happened?Short answer: the comet couldn’t take the heat.
In the end, though, the only way we’ll be able to know what will become of Comet ISON (or at least what’s left of it) will do is to wait and watch. One thing is almost certain for now: a naked eye spectacle is looking more unlikely by the hour.
As always, would-be comet watchers in the Cleveland area should be sure to keep an eye on the Cleveland weather forecast and, for hour-by-hour cloud predictions, the Cleveland Clear Sky Clock. Live somewhere else? Find a clock and see if it will be clear near you.
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