Share

Comet ISON Update: Hubble Telescope Best Shot At Learning Fate

Marcia Dunn
Published: December 3, 2013

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- It's all up to Hubble.

NASA said Monday that the Hubble Space Telescope is the best bet for figuring out whether Comet ISON disintegrated during its brush with the sun last week.

A pair of solar observatories saw something emerge from around the sun following ISON's close approach on Thanksgiving Day. But scientists don't know whether the spot of light was merely the comet's shattered remains or what's left of its icy nucleus. Either way, by now, they say it may be just dust.

(PHOTOS: See Alaska's Glaciers Before They Melted)

(AP Photo/NASA)

In this combination of three images provided by NASA, comet ISON appears as a white smear heading up and away from the sun on Thursday and Friday, Nov. 28-29, 2013.

Over the coming week or two, scientists will keep a lookout for any brightening, which could indicate what, if anything is left. Hubble should put the matter to rest in mid-December, when the comet's remains are far enough from the sun for safe viewing.

As for us earthlings, there appears to be little chance of spotting what's left of the comet with the naked eye. Whatever is left will pass closest to Earth on Dec. 26; it will keep a safe 40 million miles away.

ISON was making its first visit to the inner solar system, after traveling from the Oort cloud on the fringes of the solar system, home to countless icy bodies, most notably the frozen balls of dust and gas in orbit around the sun known as comets.

(WATCH: These May Live on the Moon)

It was discovered by Russian astronomers last year and, early on, was predicted to become the comet of the century because of its brightness. Indeed, ISON would have wowed observers if it had survived the sun's fury.

NASA turned all its space eyes on the sun-grazing comet throughout the year, watching as ISON advanced ever closer. Even scientists were left wondering whether the comet would survive its encounter with the sun from just 730,000 miles out.

In an online blog, the Naval Research Laboratory's Karl Battams paid tribute Monday to ISON and suggested that donations be made to astronomy clubs, observatories or charities supporting science and math education for children.

"Never one to follow convention, ISON lived a dynamic and unpredictable life, alternating between periods of quiet reflection and violent outburst," Battams, an astrophysicist, wrote. "Comet ISON leaves behind an unprecedented legacy for astronomers, and the eternal gratitude of an enthralled global audience."

MORE: Seeing Red in Space

The Sun's Innermost Atmosphere

The Sun's Innermost Atmosphere

This picture is made of images taken far away as well as close to the sun, which allows scientists to compare what happens at both locations. Here you see a coronal mass ejection moving away from the sun in the upper right corner. (Image: ESA/NASA)

  • The Sun's Innermost Atmosphere
  • Cone Nebula
  • It Takes Two
  • A Valentine from the Heavens
  • Saturn's String of Pearls
  • White Hot Cigar Galaxy
  • Studying the Birth of Stars
  • New Year's Eve Eruption
  • Jellyfish Nebula
  • Dusty Clouds
  • Hotbed of Star Birth
  • The Powerful Sun

Featured Blogs

The Record Quiet Hurricane Season of 1914: Could it Happen Again in 2014?

By Dr. Jeff Masters
July 25, 2014

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the slowest Atlantic hurricane season on record--1914, which had no hurricanes and only one tropical storm. Is it possible that the 2014 hurricane season could match 1914 for the lowest activity ever recorded, with Hurricane Arthur ending up as our only named storm? I think that is highly unlikely, even though the atmospheric and oceanic conditions in the Atlantic are looking hostile for development for the coming two weeks.

Warmest Days of the Year for the U.S.

By Christopher C. Burt
July 9, 2014

NOAA recently produced an interesting map showing when the hottest day of the year is likely to occur in the contiguous U.S. Complimenting this map is one produced by Brian Brettschneider of Borealis Scientific, LLC, which illustrates the date of summer’s midpoint (peak of summer average temperatures) which was reproduced in my blog posted last August. Brian has also produced maps of such for the Fall, Winter and Spring seasons. There is also some other great material from Brian herein.

Live Blog: Tracking Hurricane Arthur as it Approaches North Carolina Coast

By Shaun Tanner
July 3, 2014

This is a live blog set up to provide the latest coverage on Hurricane Arthur as it threatens the North Carolina Coast. Check back often to see what the latest is with Arthur. The most recent updates are at the top.

Tropical Terminology

By Stu Ostro
June 30, 2014

Here is some basic, fundamental terminology related to tropical cyclones. Rather than a comprehensive and/or technical glossary, this represents the essence of the meaning & importance of some key, frequently used terms.

2013-14 - An Interesting Winter From A to Z

By Tom Niziol
May 15, 2014

It was a very interesting winter across a good part of the nation from the Rockies through the Plains to the Northeast. Let's break down the most significant winter storms on a month by month basis.

What the 5th IPCC Assessment Doesn't Include

By Angela Fritz
September 27, 2013

Melting permafrost has the potential to release an additional 1.5 trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, and could increase our global average temperature by 1.5°F in addition to our day-to-day human emissions. However, this effect is not included in the IPCC report issued Friday morning, which means the estimates of how Earth's climate will change are likely on the conservative side.