Heading into the Thanksgiving holiday the internets were atwitter with talk of the Comet ISON, but by the time we came back from the long weekend and re-engaged the world, ISON was off the radar - or at least, it was off the casual news media radar. But luckily, it is the wont of our in-house astrophysicist, Summer Ash, to pop by and keep us informed, and, as she explains below, ISON had a lot to offer.
When we last left Comet ISON, it was on its way to an intimate rendezvous with the Sun. That was on Thanksgiving Day, November 28th. Unfortunately, that date turned out to be its last. ISON, like Icarus, flew too close to the Sun and paid the price. However, in the process, it gave scientists a chance to study an Oort Cloud comet up close and personal. In addition to the solar observatories monitoring ISON, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft currently orbiting Mercury was able to get a glimpse of the comet’s spectra - a detailed picture of how it absorbed and reflected sunlight. This spectra can tell us more about ISON’s composition and by extrapolation, more about the composition of the Oort Cloud itself, which as I mentioned earlier can lead to a better understanding of the formation of the Solar System.
Even though ISON is no longer, scientists are still hopeful they can continue to observe it’s remnants with telescopes like Hubble. A cometary autopsy, if you will.