ISON was supposed to be the comet of the century. But instead, it was the comet that flew too close to the sun. NASA scientists predicted that it would shine as brightly as the moon, if only it could survive a close encounter with the sun on Nov. 28.
Hopes were high but not unrealistic for the 4.5-billion-year-old comet. “Comet ISON has the potential to live up to the hype,” said Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab, “but it also has the potential to do nothing.” If it could survive its trip through the sun’s atmosphere, the scientists said, it would light up the northern sky until January.
ISON would be passing the sun just 700,000 feet from the star's surface. Temperatures would be 4,900 degrees Fahrenheit and it would lose 3 million tons of mass per second.
Would it make it?
Things were tense just before Thanksgiving, as NASA captured incredible video of ISON’s final, harrowing approach.
ISON didn’t make it. A chunk seemed to survive, brightening over a couple of days and raising hopes that the "comet of the century" was making a comeback. But it quickly fizzled. The dream was dead.
Dr. Battams saw the silver lining. “Scientifically, I don’t know if it gets much better than seeing the comet being ripped apart, falling apart right before your eyes,” he said.
Luckily, there are trillions of comets out there and we’ll have plenty of chances to see them over the next several million years.