The life and death- and life, and death (or at least, excuse the pun, coma) of a 'zombie comet'

Yesterday I reported the fiery death of Comet ISON. Here's view from NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft that formed the basis of that judgment:

There seems to be no evidence of a nucleus emerging from the back of the sun. Debris, yes; nucleus, no. The consensus of NASA scientists was that ISON had bought the celestial farm.

On that basis, yesterday I reported that ISON was essentially kaput. Here's a still picture I posted yesterday from SOHO's LASCO-C2 camera. An arrow points to what I was trying for quite a while to convince myself was ISON emerging. But there was a problem, that didn't dawn on me until the next morning: the tail of a comet is created by the solar wind blowing outward. As a result, the tails of comets always point away from the sun.

We were dealing, not with a comet, but with a debris field.

But new hope arose yesterday when NASA released these videos from SOHO:

And from another camera:

Note that the tail is behaving exactly as a comet's tail should.

You know, come to think of it, that looks like the same shot which formed the basis of NASA's death certificate on Thanksgiving Day, except that it goes on a bit longer. Apparently for some reason it just took some extra time to brighten enough to be identifiable as a surviving nucleus.

Sadly, here's the latest from SOHO:

ISON is dying again. Or at least fading badly. It may yet survive, but at best will be only an ordinary comet, observable by the naked eye only from dark locations.


Popular Posts