Written by Kelly Herbst, Astronomy Curator for the Virginia Living Museum. Updated every two weeks, more or less.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Comet ISON Post-Mortem


No, it's not the holiday's the lack of a comet.

Sadly, it looks like Comet ISON did not fare too well in its first ever (and probably last ever!) trip around the Sun.  The comet was brightening dramatically as it approached the Sun, but then even before perihelion (it's point of closest approach to the Sun) the comet suddenly dropped in brightness...not usually a good sign.  It often heralds a breakup of the object.

Thanksgiving Day saw ISON directly behind the Sun from our view at perihelion...and then, it came back!  But sadly it was much, much dimmer than when it rounded the Sun, and then it proceeded to continue to dim rapidly.  Whatever is left of Comet ISON will not be bright enough to put on any kind of display in our skies this December.

A movie of Comet ISON plunging toward the Sun and then emerging, much diminished, on the other side.  Courtesy NASA and the SOHO Spacecraft.

Ah well.  It was exciting to hope for...but it wasn't meant to be.

We've got holiday fun to cheer us up though - Star of Wonder: Mystery of the Christmas Star and Laser Holidays are back in the planetarium for the rest of this year.  And of course, the December Star Party (December 14) will feature not only those two shows, but also a free concert by the United States Salvation Army Brass Band.  And hopefully the skies will be crisp and clear so we can enjoy the natural celestial show as well.

Still, a nice bright naked-eye comet would have been a wonderful early Christmas present.  Maybe if we're lucky, the Geminid meteor shower will consent to give us a few good meteors on December 14th, despite the nearly Full Moon.  Come join us and find out!

More from the world of astronomy in two weeks...until then...
Carpe Noctem!

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