- Press Release
- Sep 26, 2022
ISON Survives its Fiery Swing Around the Sun
The unusual shape of the comet’s tail permits conclusions about yesterday’s encounter with the sun November 29, 2013
At the time of its closest approach to the sun, comet ISON still had an active nucleus which was spewing gas and dust. This is the assessment made by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg- Lindau. They are currently analyzing actual pictures of the instrument LASCO which enjoys a unique view of the comet from its vantage point on board of the Solar Observatory SOHO. From the assessments, it is not clear whether the nucleus still exists or whether it partially fragmented on its fiery swing around the sun.
Against 8:30 p.m. yesterday evening, the tail of ISON emerged from behind sun in the field of view of the LASCO instrument. At this point in time, however, it was unclear whether the tip of the tail concealed a nucleus or not. New images from this morning now allow further conclusions.
“The dust tail of the comet is now divided into two parts,” explains Hermann Boehnhardt from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research. According to Boehnhardt, the part of the tail that is pointing towards the sun consists of dust particles, which were released significantly before the comet’s Perihelion passage – i.e. prior to reaching the closest point to the sun.
The other part, however, appears to contain more recent material: It was released when ISON passed the sun and suggests that at least part of the nucleus still existed and was active at that time.
The Max Planck researchers base their assessment on computer simulations in which they model the shape of the dust tail. “If we assume in our calculations that the comet has emitted dust at Perihelion, we can reproduce the current images quite well,” says Boehnhardt.
Only the LASCO images from tomorrow, Saturday, will allow an analysis of whether a nucleus exists. The dust that ISON may release today needs a few hours to make its way into the visible tail region, where it can be detected. Whether the comet nucleus was still intact at Perihelion or continued its flight as a small fragment or as collection of chunks is not yet clear.
The instrument Sumer on board of the satellite SOHO, which was developed and built under the auspices of the Max Planck Institute in Lindau observed ISON last night in the hour when it directly approached the sun. The instrument divides the light that is sent into space by the celestial body into its individual components. From this, researchers can draw conclusions about the elements and molecules in the comet’s dust cloud.
“Our measurements show a clear signal of the comet during its flight past the sun,” says Max Planck scientist Werner Curdt. Exact results of the measurement, however, are not yet available.