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Comet ISON dead: Sun is chief suspect

  • In this frame grab taken from enhanced video made by NASA's STEREO-A spacecraft, comet ISON, left, approaches the sun on Nov. 25, 2013. Comet Encke is shown just below ISON, The sun is to the right, just outside the frame. ISON, which was discovered a year ago, is making its first spin around the sun and will come the closest to the super-hot solar surface on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, at 1:37 p.m. EST. (AP Photo/NASA)

WASHINGTON — 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.


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