NASA announced that it is still investigating what happened to comet ISON after its encounter with the sun and is speculating that the comet is most likely just a ball of dust now.
A NASA report yesterday revealed that comet ISON, dubbed the "Comet of the Century," may have survived its close encounter with the sun November 28, based on observations showing a streak of bright material streaming away from the sun. Now, in a new press statement released this morning, the space agency confirmed that it will continue its investigation on the comet to determine whether the "bright stream" is merely debris of the comet or whether there is still a nucleus left.
Regardless of the findings, researchers at the agency are sure that whatever is left of the comet may just be in the form of dust.
"There's no doubt that the comet shrank in size considerably as it rounded the sun, and there's no doubt that something made it out on the other side to shoot back into space," the agency wrote in a statement. "The question remains as to whether the bright spot seen moving away from the sun was simply debris, or whether a small nucleus of the original ball of ice was still there."
Comet ISON began its journey towards the sun from the Oort Cloud some 3 million years ago, making its closest approach to the blazing star November 28. The comet was visible through NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory and the joint European Space Agency/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), via images known as Coronagraphs. These images block out the sun and some distance around it to get a clearer picture of dim structures in the sun's atmosphere. Therefore, when the comet entered this region, it was also blocked from view along with the sun. For several hours NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory was unable to detect the comet, leading scientists to believe that the cosmic body had disintegrated completely owing to the sun's immense heat.
However, later that evening, SOHO detected something reappearing on the other side of the sun, but this object was a lot smaller and dimmer than the comet. This reappearance has caused all the confusion. Scientists are still not sure about the fate of ISON, though the NASA report confirmed that as of December 1, there was no nucleus left. Researchers revealed that their best chance of finding out what exactly happened to the cosmic body will be if the Hubble Space Telescope makes observations later in December 2013.