In a reversal that would make a comic book writer blush, scientists seem ready to resurrect Comet ISON after its untimely Thanksgiving demise.
Over the holidays, NASA brought leading astronomers together to watch Comet ISON as the flying bundle of material made its first and only trip around the sun. But the viewing ended up being an astronomical snuff film: ISON seemed to die as it passed by the sun.
But, wait! There's hope on the horizon. New photos show ISON streaming past the sun. Some scientists noticed ISON's remnants brightly shining on the other side of the sun yesterday, and NASA admits now they may have been on to something. NASA, brimming with excitement, explains the fortunate turn of events:
As ISON appeared to dim and fizzle in several observatories and later could not be seen at all by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory or by ground based solar observatories, many scientists believed it had disintegrated completely. However, a streak of bright material streaming away from the sun appeared in the European Space Agency and NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory later in the evening. The question remains whether it is merely debris from the comet, or if some portion of the comet's nucleus survived, but late-night analysis from scientists with NASA's Comet ISON Observing Campaign suggest that there is at least a small nucleus intact.
Per Gizmodo, these GIFS shows why scientists were quick to declare ISON dead after its sun trip. When it emerged on the other side, ISON seemed to dim significantly on the other side. Scientists knew something would come out the other side, but weren't sure what. Initially they assumed what was showing on the telescopes was merely... what's left. But, as you can see, ISON gets brighter as it travels away from the sun, further confusing the professionals.
Slate's Phil Plait is excited too, saying it "sure looks like something survived intact," according to the new evidence. Piatt explains why, really, the only strategy available to scientists is the "wait and see" approach:
At this point all I can say is the same thing I've been saying all along: predicting comets is like predicting cats. Good luck with that. 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.
If ISON does survive its close call with the sun, earth will receive a magical show as it passes by our planet (hopefully without major incident) in December. Scientists have no idea what ISON is made of, lending to the confusion surrounding the mysterious comet.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.