'Comet of the Century' already may have fizzled out

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida Mon Jul 29, 2013 8:35pm EDT

The sun-approaching Comet ISON floats against a seemingly infinite backdrop of numerous galaxies and a handful of foreground stars in this April 2013 composite image from the Hubble Telescope. REUTERS/NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)/Handout via Reuters

The sun-approaching Comet ISON floats against a seemingly infinite backdrop of numerous galaxies and a handful of foreground stars in this April 2013 composite image from the Hubble Telescope.

Credit: Reuters/NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)/Handout via Reuters

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - Astronomers slated to meet this week to discuss observing plans for Comet ISON may not have much to talk about. The so-called "Comet of the Century" may already have fizzled out.

"The future of comet ISON does not look bright," astronomer Ignacio Ferrin, with the University of Antioquia in Colombia, said in a statement on Monday.

Ferrin's calculations show the comet, which is currently moving toward the sun at 16 miles per second, has not brightened since mid-January. That may be because the comet is already out of ice particles in its body, which melt as the comet moves closer to the sun, creating a long, bright tail.

Another theory is that the comet is covered in a layer of silicate dust that snuffs out water vapor and other gases that brighten the comet.

"Comet ISON has been on a standstill for more than 132 days ... a rather puzzling feat," Ferrin wrote in a paper submitted to the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and posted online at the archival site arXiv.org.

The comet, named ISON for the International Scientific Optical Network that made its discovery, was found in September 2012 by two amateur Russian astronomers.

It is due to pass about 724,000 miles (1.2 million km) from the sun on November 28. The relatively close pass was expected to create a massive tail that some scientists predict will be visible even in daylight.

If it survives, that is. At that distance, the comet would reach temperatures of about 4,900 degrees Fahrenheit (2,700 degrees Celsius) - hot enough to melt lead. It may also be pulled apart by the sun's gravity.

Scientists believe the comet hails from the Oort Cloud, a cluster of icy rocks that circle the sun about 50,000 times farther away than Earth's orbit. Calculations show Comet ISON is making its first - and possibly last - voyage into the inner solar system.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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Comments (4)
USAPragmatist wrote:
I would suspect all the volatile material has already evaporated from it.

Jul 30, 2013 10:54am EDT  --  Report as abuse
leslie20 wrote:
“puzzling” — then it sounds like they have something new and interesting to learn about. It could still be the comet of the century…

Jul 30, 2013 12:17am EDT  --  Report as abuse
monarchist2 wrote:
The study on which this is based is widely regarded in the Astronomical community as speculative at best, and probably complete garbage.

Comet ISON is very large, cannot possibly have run out of volatiles (it is still beyond the “frost line”, and is currently not visible from earth. A mystery wrapped in an enigma, but it almost certainly hasn’t “fizzled”.

Jul 31, 2013 2:54am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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