Good-bye Comet ISON?

It looks like the comet ISON might not have survived its encounter with the Sun. When it drew near to the star of the Solar System, the sun’s gravitational forces and heat may have ripped ISON apart. So, if you were planning to try to capture this comet on its way out of the solar system later this month, you may need a better camera since the comet has been declared “dead” by NASA and it will only be pieces of it that manage to make their way back out to the Oort Cloud and, perhaps, to points further beyond. There are some hopes and arguments that the comet might still be alive, however, so keep those dates open if you can and take the best astrophotography camera you can dig up with you since you may very well need it to see ISON (or ISON fragments).

If ISON (or Fraggle ISON) does manage to make it through the rest of its orbit, it may never visit Earth again. It seems that ISON was on an extra-solar trajectory which would have taken it out to interstellar space where it could hang out with other luminaries such as the Pioneer and Voyager space probes. Many comets that make a pass around the sun are on those kinds of trajectories. It actually isn’t that uncommon though the most famous comets are those that are actually in an orbital plane around the sun such as Haley’s Comet and the Hale-Bopp comet. Still, even if ISON turns out to be completely dead and invisible to the naked eye, there are still plenty of comets that could provide stargazers hours of great footage as well as more details about what is going on at the edge of the solar system (objects from the Kuiper belt and from the Oort Cloud can tell astronomers and astrophysicists a lot about what is going out near the interstellar boundary along with what conditions were like in the early solar system).

Also, don’t let ISON fragmenting (if, indeed, it did fragment) upset you. While there currently aren’t any comets on the calendar for 2014 that can always change as objects from the outer edge get a nudge and decide to go check out that bright light so very far away. 😉 There will be plenty of things to observe through telescopes and to capture with cameras in 2014 so don’t let ISON discourage you. Who knows but that your photographs and observations could lead to the discovery of another comet — one that might survive its close encounter with the sun!

— da Bird