The comet Ison, dubbed by the astronomers the “Comet of the Century”, was expected to be observable in the northern hemisphere as it was getting closer to the Sun and promised a ‘once in a lifetime’ spectacle for skywatchers.
The comet Ison weighed more than 3 billion pounds and was directed towards the Sun at a speed of 377 kilometers per second. It was visible to the naked eye since the middle of November, and its sight became more and more impressive as it was approaching the center of our solar system.
Its presence was expected to “brighten” the sky in December and early January, at the point when the comet came close to the Sun and Earth, more specifically in a third of the distance of the Sun from us when its temperature reached to 2,760 degrees Celsius.
Then, it was expected that if the comet had “survived”, we would have seen a bright body in the sky that would surpass in brightness even the moon, but since it didn’t withstand the high temperature, we saw… fireworks.
It was expected that the galactic “spectacle” would be comparable to that of the “Great Comet” in 1680, which was visible even at daylight, something that people of that time thought it was… punishment from God. Astronomers, of course, asserted that the Earth was not at any risk of the collision with the Ison.
The largest telescopes on the planet turned to the comet, which can offer science valuable information on the origin of celestial bodies.
The ‘Comet of the Century’ Didn’t Survive Its Meeting with Sun
Initial observations indicated that the ISON dissolved as passed at a short distance from the Sun.
According to the latest observations, the “comet of the century” didn’t survive the most critical night of its life.
The first data from space telescopes showed that the comet ISON dissolved on Thursday night as it passed at a short distance from the Sun.
The comet did not reappear on the other side of the Sun. The giant mass of ice and rocks was recorded passing behind the Sun, but it failed to reappear on the other side of the star.
Astronomers warned from the beginning that the comet could be damaged by the extreme temperature, which reached 4,900 degrees Celsius, and the tidal forces from the gravitational field of the Sun.
The hope was that the ISON would come out unscathed from this “hot meeting” so that its tail would take gigantic proportions and would be clearly visible to the naked eye. In this case, every morning until mid-December, just before dawn, the comet would appear low in the eastern sky.
The unpleasant news was announced during the discussion of NASA experts on Google Hangout.
Probably the comet did not survive
“The ISON probably did not survive,” said Carl Battams of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.
“The Comet ISON seems to have dissolved” announced shortly afterward the website of NASA.
It is most likely that the cosmic snowball broke into pieces that completely melted.
The ‘Comet of the Century’ Survived But Lost Most of Its Mass
But the journey of the comet of the century didn’t end there. Scientists were surprised when they observed a shine coming from a small part of the “Comet of the Century”, which, however, seemed to be heading towards disintegration.
The ISON turned out to be “injured” but “alive” after the “hot embrace” with the center of our solar system.
According to the latest data available to scientists, the ISON may have lost about 3 million tonnes and is heading towards disintegration, but so far, a small part of it continues its journey into space.
What previously caused the assertion that ISON is “dead” was the fact that initially, telescopes recorded it entering perihelion, i.e. the point, where the trajectory of a body in the Solar System is located at the shortest distance from the Sun but did not record it leaving.
However, the latest photos show a glow that scientists believe to be a small part of the comet.
The calculations, based on the latest data, show that the remains of ISON will continue to glow or will just fizzle out and disappear.
“We do not even know if there is or how big the core of debris is. If so, then it is too early to say how long the comet will survive. If it survives for several days, it is still early to say whether it will still be visible in the evening sky”, refers the NASA website.
Passing at the distance of 1.2 million km from the surface of the Sun, the ices of ISON probably evaporated at temperatures above 2,000 degrees Celsius, while the gravitational forces of the Sun exerted much pressure on the comet.
That is why the size of the piece of the comet that remains “alive” is still unknown.
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