Death of a comet

What does a dying comet look like?

This.

The comet ISON, previously declared dead as it circled the sun, then thought alive when pieces of it appeared to survive, is, in fact, dead, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics announced today.

Its demise was captured by the SOHO spacecraft.

Astrophysicist Karl Battams, at the Comet ISON Observing Committee, pens an appropriate memorial that will make you as sympathetic as you’re likely to be this winter for a block of ice and slush.

Born in a dusty and turbulent environment, comet ISON spent its early years being jostled and struck by siblings both large and small. Surviving a particularly violent first few million years, ISON retreated to the Oort Cloud, where it maintained a largely reclusive existence for nearly four billion years. But around 3-million B.C., a chance encounter with a passing star coerced ISON into undertaking a pioneering career as a Sungrazer. On September 21, 2012, ISON made itself known to us, and allowed us to catalog the most extraordinary part of its spectacular vocational calling.

Never one to follow convention, ISON lived a dynamic and unpredictable life, alternating between periods of quiet reflection and violent outburst. However, its toughened exterior belied a complex and delicate inner working that only now we are just beginning to understand. In late 2013, Comet ISON demonstrated not only its true beauty but a surprising turn of speed as it reached its career defining moment in the inner solar system. 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.

Survived by approximately several trillion siblings, Comet ISON leaves behind an unprecedented legacy for astronomers, and the eternal gratitude of an enthralled global audience. In ISON’s memory, donations are encouraged to your local astronomy club, observatory or charity that supports STEM and science outreach programs for children.

(Photo: NASA)
  • MrE85

    There are cheers and cries, when a comet dies. Its light snuffed out, it’s gone, no doubt. I do not cheer, I’m sad and gruff. Because as Sagan told us, we’re all “star stuff.”

  • Joseph

    Daedalus was right.