Zombie comet survives Sun’s Thanksgiving cooking

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Comet ISON survives
At first, astronomers thought Comet ISON was dead, because it didn’t appear where the cross symbol is.

After a year of tracking Comet ISON closely, astronomers watched excitedly as it headed for a deadly encounter with the Sun on Thanksgiving Day. At first, it was pronounced dead on arrival when it failed to emerge again from behind the star. Just a faint smudge was visible in space telescope images, and it seemed like ISON had been cooked as thoroughly as a burned turkey.

However, recent photos seem to provide evidence of a brightening that may be a small piece of the comet! It will either fizzle out or get more sparkly, because astronomers will be the first to tell you how unpredictable a comet can be.

“We’ve been following this comet for a year now and all the way it has been surprising us and confusing us,” admitted astrophysicist Karl Battams to BBC News. Battams, who runs the US space agency-funded Sungrazing Comets Project, added, “It’s just typical that right at the end, when we said, ‘yes, it has faded out, it’s died, we’ve lost it in the Sun’, that a couple of hours later it should pop right back up again.”

The comet’s path took it roughly 730,000 miles above the Sun, which is close enough for the star’s gravity to crush the comet and its heat to fry the icy rock. Battams wants to wait a couple of days for more images to come back before giving a final word on the comet. “That will give us an idea of maybe what the object is composed of,” he says, “and what it might do in the coming days and weeks.”

Images courtesy of NASA.