Science in Mind

RIP, comet ISON.

It was supposed to be the comet of the century. Then it was the comet that wasn’t—a dirty snowball that disintegrated as it skimmed the sun. Hopes for early morning viewings of the comet ISON were then briefly revived as astronomers saw a bright spot that suggested that their death knell had been premature.

Now, they are finally ready to say goodbye. RIP, comet ISON.

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The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics just sent out a cancellation for its planned comet-watching party in the dawn hours on Dec. 14.

“Short of a memorial service, we will not be holding our Special Event,” wrote David Aguilar, a spokesman for the CFA. Now, with a bit more data, scientists can see that the bright spot that re-emerged was just a short-lived chunk of comet.

Aguilar described what happened—and what led to the confusion about whether the comet had or hadn’t survived its brush with the sun.

“To see what happened, check out this video taken from the SOHO space craft,” Aguilar wrote. “In it, comet ISON valiantly approaches the sun, passes behind it, and then breaks apart ejecting one small piece that quickly evaporates.”