Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Astronomers using the IRAM millimeter telescope in Spain are reporting a sharp change in Comet ISON. "We observe consistent, rapid fading of the molecular emission lines between Nov. 21 and Nov. 25 by at least a factor of 20. This may indicate that the nucleus is now at best marginally active or that... it no longer exists," says Michal Drahus of Caltech.

Astronomer Karl Battams of NASA's Comet ISON Observing Campaign comments: "[The fading emission lines] could indicate that the nucleus has completely disrupted, releasing an enormous volume of dust while significantly reducing emission rates. Fragmentation or disruption of the nucleus has always been the highest risk factor for this comet so if this has indeed happened then while unfortunate, it would not be a surprise."

"However," he continues, "these reports are new, and while they are undoubtedly valid, we do still need to keep observing the comet to be sure what it happening. Remember: Comet ISON is a dynamically new sungrazing comet, fresh in from the Oort Cloud, and the last time we saw an object like this was never! Furthermore, a sungrazing comet just three days from perihelion has never been studied in this kind of detail - we're breaking new ground! When we factor in your standard 'comets are unpredictable' disclaimer, what we have is a huge recipe for the unknown.

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