That once-in-a-lifetime celestial light show was not, it seems, meant to be. Comet ISON, once touted as a top candidate for comet of the century, appears to have fragmented during its swing past the sun last week. Though some NASA images initially suggested that ISON had survived the close encounter, experts now think this wasn't the case. Instead, they believe that ISON has largely disintegrated, leaving only a dusty cloud in its wake.
"Never one to follow convention, ISON lived a dynamic and unpredictable life, alternating between periods of quiet reflection and violent outburst," wrote astrophysicist Karl Battams in a rather dramatic obituary for the comet on NASA's ISON observation website. "Tragically, on November 28, 2013, ISON's tenacious ambition outweighed its ability, and our shining green candle in the solar wind began to burn out."
"Our shining green candle in the solar wind began to burn out."
Indeed, the latest satellite images show ISON continuing to fade in brightness and visibility as the comet travels away from the sun. While avid skywatchers had hoped to see ISON put on a fabulous light show sometime in early December, experts now say we shouldn't expect to see much of anything. "I think for the most part it's dead," C. Alex Young, the associate director for science in the heliophysics division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, told The New York Times. "The folks are finally pretty confident that's the case."
For scientists, though, not all is lost. NASA notes that researchers will still be able to capture valuable data from the comet's intergalactic tour, including ISON's composition and how it interacted with its inhospitable environs. And for those not quite ready to say goodbye, check out NASA's latest video, below, of ISON's close (and deadly) encounter with the sun.