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Comet ISON: The Zombie Comet who Refuses to Die

November 29, 2013 News
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Image Credit: NASA/SOHO

Image Credit: NASA/SOHO

It is now confirmed; the reports of ISON’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. It is still kicking, and it’s still very bright.

We had a flurry of predictions yesterday regarding the fate of the famous comet. Initially, ISON disappeared completely from our field of view, leading many astronomers to speculate that the comet had completely disintegrated just before it’s rendezvous with the Sun. A faint trail of something had started to reemerge on the other side of the Sun. This was either a continuation of the Comet’s tail or ISON itself.

ison_sohoc2_nov28_1948utc.jpg.CROP.original-originalAfter further analysis, and the collection of more data, it looks like some part of ISON managed to survive. ISON has continued to defy everything we know about comets and science; as it travels farther away from the sun, it continues to brighten steadily after having completely vanished from view only a day earlier.

Elizabeth Howell with Universe Today, affectionately calls the comet “Zombie ISON,” a tradition I think we’ll continue. She also writes, “But the remnants — or whatever ISON is now — kept brightening and brightening and brightening in images from the NASA/European Space Agency Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. The pictures are still puzzling astronomers right now, almost a day after ISON’s closest encounter with the sun.”

A NASA statement released earlier today stated, “late-night analysis from scientists with NASA’s Comet ISON Observing Campaign suggest that there is at least a small nucleus intact.” The weirdest thing about this entire event is ISON is still behaving like a comet. At minimum, assuming it did disintegrate, it should just be another hunk of rock orbiting the Sun (or, it should behave like an asteroid). Karl Battams from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory writes, “One could almost be forgiven for thinking that there’s a comet in the images!”

Image Credit: NASA/SOHO

Image Credit: NASA/SOHO

In conclusion, Phil Plait summarized ISON’s behavior the best in an update he posted last night, “For those keeping score at home, it got bright, then it faded, then it got all smeared out, then it came around the Sun smeared out, and then it seemed to get its act together again. At this point, I refuse to make any further conclusions about this comet; it seems eager to confuse. I’ve been hearing from comet specialists who are just as baffled… which is fantastic! If we knew what was going on, there’d be nothing more to learn.”

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