Comet ISON pronounced dead: Sun is chief suspect

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Posted December 11, 2013
Comet ISON pronounced dead: Sun is chief suspect
This image provided by NASA and taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on Nov. 28, 2013, shows the sun, but no sign of comet ISON. During a meeting of the American Geophysical Union meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, scientists said the comet broke apart on Thanksgiving after coming close to the sun. (AP Photo/NASA)
Comet ISON, once optimistically called the comet of the century, is dead, the victim of a way-too-close brush with the sun. It was barely a year old.

The comet, which excited astronomers and the media as it zipped within 730,000 miles of the sun on Thanksgiving Day, was pronounced dead at a scientific conference Tuesday. Astronomers who had followed the ice ball mourned the loss of the sky show that once promised to light up during December.

Naval Research Lab astronomer Karl Battams, who headed the observing campaign for the comet, said ISON (EYE’-sahn) was stretched and pulled by the sun’s powerful gravity. It was also hit with solar radiation. And the icy snowball just fell apart.

“At this point it seems like there is nothing left,” Battams said at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco. “Sorry, everyone, Comet ISON is dead. But its memory will live on.”

Astronomers had hoped it would survive because some—but not most—comets make it past close approaches with the sun. Last year Comet Lovejoy did.

Had ISON survived it would have provided good naked-eye viewing in early December for the Northern Hemisphere, astronomers said. NASA had aimed several telescopes and spacecraft at the comet to watch its close brush with the sun, only to find it missing after the encounter.

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