Where has comet ISON vanished to? Did the sun just gobble "the comet of the century" up?
Astronomers were hoping that on December 3, Comet ISON would make an appearance on the eastern horizon, but now the comet's 5.5 million-year journey to the inner solar system has apparently ended abruptly in a suicidal trip around the sun.
Per scientists, no trace of the bright tail of the "sungrazer" ISON or even remnants of rock and dust are visible.
On Thursday, November 28, at 1:37 p.m. EST Comet ISON passed by the sun at a distance of 730,000 miles away. Astronomers used several telescopes to search for the comet after its trip around the sun, but to no avail.
"I'm not seeing anything that emerged from the behind the solar disk. That could be the nail in the coffin," said astrophysicist Karl Battams, with the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, during a live broadcast on NASA TV. It's sad that it seemed to have ended this way, but we're going to learn more about this comet."
Comet ISON was moving faster than 217 miles per second through the sun's atmosphere when it was nearest. It touched temperatures of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit at this distance, which is hot enough to vaporize the ice in the comet's body, as well as dust and rocks.
In the event Comet ISON or any fragments of it have survived the encounter with the sun, they will be visible to those on Earth in a couple of weeks. Moreover, some recent pictures have pointed to a brightening of what could be a small fragment of the comet ISON.
"We would like people to give us a couple of days, just to look at more images as they come from the spacecraft, and that will allow us to assess the brightness of the object that we're seeing now, and how that brightness changes. That will give us an idea of maybe what the object is composed of and what it might do in the coming days and weeks," Battams said.
In 2012, two amateur astronomers discovered the comet while using Russia's International Scientific Optical Network or ISON.