The end of a comet’s journey

Author: Shadia Ajam

Comet ISON

This past Thursday, Keith Davis, Ph.D., director of the Digital Visualization Theater, gave a public presentation about comets and the solar system. His presentation focused on Comet ISON, which has recently been given major media coverage and dubbed as the possible “comet of the century.”

Davis explained how a disruption in ISON’s original orbit millions of years ago sent it along a path that led it to the inner solar system. When scientists mapped out ISON’s new orbit, they learned that it would graze the sun, making it a “sun diving comet.”

The presentation featured videos and images collected from the solar fleet of space agencies on earth, which are objects in space that observe the sun and were perfectly positioned to watch ISON’s journey towards it.

One of the biggest questions regarding ISON was whether or not it was large enough to survive its journey near the sun. Scientists predicted that ISON’s journey near the sun would cause it to release a huge amount of gas, and if it survived, it would become a very bright object that would be visible without telescopes. ISON’s orbit brought it closest to the sun around Thanksgiving, but unfortunately, images and videos of the comet showed that ISON did not end up surviving its interaction with the sun.

“It was originally thought that this comet might be one of the brightest comets of the last 100 years and it got a lot of news and discussion. It melted and didn’t turn out to be so spectacular,” said Davis.