Earlier today I posted a really cool animation from the Stereo-A satellite which monitors the Sun. It showed Comet Ison and Comet Encke heading toward the Sun while being blasted by the solar wind.
Many people feel (or felt) Ison might be the brightest and easily visible comet of our lifetimes! Almost as soon as I posted to my blog new information began to arrive suggesting hopes would be dashed.
We are seeing reports online that molecular emission from the comet has fallen dramatically, meanwhile dust production seems to be enormous. What this could indicate is 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, these reports are new, and while they are undoubtedly valid, we do still need to keep observing the comet to be sure what is happening. Karl Battams, Naval Research Laboratory
Simply put, it’s possible the comet has broken apart or disintegrated leaving a trail of dust and debris.
All along scientists hinted this was a possibility. Comet Ison has spent hundreds of thousands of years¹ in the darkest reaches of space. It was safely removed from any source of heat, light or gravity. Now that was changing and changing in a hurry.
Today’s revelation is preliminary info. It points to a likely outcome, but that’s no guarantee. The more comets we see, the more we realize how little we know.
¹ – It is being reported Comet Ison’s orbit arounnd the Sun takes 582,666 years!