Comet ISON has survived its trip around the Sun! At least that’s the news according to the latest satellite observations after early footage immediate post-perihelion suggested that the comet disintegrated thanks to its close solar passage. Now, nearly 2 days after reaching perihelion, the comet, or at least what’s left of it, is continuing to brighten as it races away from the Sun.
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 perihelion approach, coming within a mere (in astronomical terms) 700,000 miles from the Sun. 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.
Fortunately, as of this writing, Comet ISON appears to have survived, after all. . .
According to Karl Battams of the Naval Research Laboratory, Comet ISON’s nucleus appears to be intact and brightening as it flies away from the Sun at nearly 150,000mph. Commenting of current events, Battams commented that “Comet ISON appears to be, well . . . behaving like a comet.”
So, what could have happened?
Right now, the Sun is near the peak of activity in its regular, 11-year cycles. This means that the Sun is blasting a lot of waves of charged particles (solar wind) out into space. With Comet ISON getting so close to the Sun, it will take a direct, close-range hit should a flare aimed at the comet erupt in the coming days. As for what could happen? While anything exact is far from certain, it appears as though the solar wind could have stripped off a sizable portion of the comet’s atmosphere, thus reducing its brightness, and leading to premature expectations of its total demise. The same thing happened to Comet Encke in 2007 and, to a lesser degree, Comet Lovejoy in 2011..
In the end, thought, the only way we’ll be able to know what Comet ISON will do is to wait and watch. Hopefully, it has survived its close encounter intact enough to put on a dazzling show when it reappears from the Sun’s glare.
Keep your fingers crossed!
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