Comet ISON Fades Away: No More Chances To View 'Comet Of The Century'

By Gabrielle Jonas on December 2, 2013 11:29 AM EST

Comet ISON's Approach To The Sun
The second panel shows ISON as it reached perihelion, its closest approach to the sun, on Thursday. The comet passed just over one million kilometers above the solar surface, a distance less than the sun's diameter. The first panel shows ISON shortly thereafter, imaged by the LASCO instrument on board the Sun staring SOHO spacecraft. Overwhelming sunlight is blocked by LASCO's central disk with a white circle indicating the sun's position and scale. (Photo: NASA/SOHO)

Hopes for a revival later this week were dashed Monday morning as Comet ISON, which has captivated professional astronomers and the public worldwide, became "catastrophically fragmented," according to NASA, as the heat of the sun burned it to rubble.

Naval Research Laboratory astrophysicist Dr. Karl Battams, who had been avidly following the comet in his blog on the Nasa Comet ISON Observing Campaign website, posted an obituary for the comet Monday morning.  "ISON's tenacious ambition outweighed its ability, and our shining green candle in the solar wind began to burn out," Battams wrote, adding, "Survived by approximately several trillion siblings, Comet ISON leaves behind an unprecedented legacy for astronomers."

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As comet ISON raced towards to the sun, it began to fall apart, shedding chunks of its body, falling apart even more and vaporizing as it plunged through the corona, Dr. Battams wrote. Then, it emerged from behind the sun looking like it still had a coherent nucleus, emitting dust and gas, giving rise to hope that it still might make a reappearance for viewers later this week.  

But that was not to be. The four-billion year old comet from the Oort Cloud has now dissapated into dust, NASA wrote in a statement. As of Friday, the remnant of comet ISON was a faint, diffuse, cloud with no obvious central condensation. It had not survived its passage through the sun's corona and will not offer astronomers a view later in the week. Instead, it became a "pile of rubble and comet chunks," NASA wrote. Dr. Battams and others had held out hope until Monday morning that the comet still was intact. That he conceded this in an obituary rather than just a statement revealed the extent of his passion for the comet.

"ISON demonstrated not only its true beauty but a surprising turn of speed as it reached its career defining moment in the inner solar system," Dr. Battams wrote, adding, "In ISON's memory, donations are encouraged to your local astronomy club, observatory or charity that supports STEM and science outreach programs for children." 

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