ISON Comet Update: It's Disintegrating, But Also Giving Off More Light And Becoming More Visible [VIDEO]

By Gabrielle Jonas on November 27, 2013 4:16 PM EST

The latest ISON comet update can be filed under the "less is more" department: As ISON disintegrates, it may be throwing off more illumination, allowing astronomers to get a better look at it, NASA said Wednesday. "A disintegrating comet sometimes gives off more light, at least temporarily, so researchers look at the comet's pattern of behavior over the previous few days to work out what it may be doing," NASA said on its ISON blog. On the other hand, less light can sometimes mean that more of the material has boiled off and disappeared, perhaps pointing to a disintegrated comet. Because the comet is still too far away from earth, NASA "is still unclear" as to whether ISON has completely fragmented.

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Astronomers from space agencies all over the globe are carefully measuring how bright it is, which can be used to infer its current state. "At times observations have suggested ISON was getting dimmer and might already be in pieces," NASA said on its blog. However, on Tuesday and Wednesday, the comet once again brightened. During rush hour Wednesday, ISON appeared harried as it made its commute toward the sun in the view of the European Space Agency/NASA mission the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory in the Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph instrument.

If the comet has already broken up, it should disintegrate completely as it makes its slingshot around the sun. This would provide a great opportunity for astronomers to see ISON's insides, and better understand its composition, which holds clues about what material was present during the solar system's formation when the comet was born, NASA said. Indeed, a reason Comet ISON has generated so much excitement — apart from its planned promenade around the sun — is that it is making its virgin trip into the inner solar system, and as such, had not had its top layer eroded by proximity to the sun on earlier trips. Astronomers anyway were hoping to get a good look at its innards, formed at the same time as our solar system.



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