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Comet ISON is still alive! (Maybe.)


This GIF shows Comet ISON orbiting around the sun -- represented by the white circle -- on Nov. 28, 2013. ISON looks smaller as it streams away, but scientists believe its nucleus may still be intact. (Image Credit: ESA&NASA/SOHO)



Yesterday we told you that Comet ISON was like Icarus. Now, it looks like the comet may have more in common with Lazarus.

ISON has come back from the dead!


ISON's path was being followed with huge interest by astronomers. It originated in the deep-freeze Oort cloud in the nether reaches of the solar system. Then on Thursday, it was supposed to become a "sungrazing" comet, orbiting the (obviously-very-hot-and-not-very-good-for-an-icy-comet) sun at very close range.

Scientists had not only never seen ISON before but had never observed that combination of comet characteristics.

No one knew whether ISON would survive.

It was all incredibly suspenseful.

But when images from spaceborne telescopes showed ISON quickly fading on its closest approach to the sun (known as its "perihelion") and when only a smudgy streak appeared on the other side, the astronomers at the Kitt Peak National Observatory who were monitoring ISON's path all but declared the comet dead.

Images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory, a ground-based telescope poised to capture images of ISON emerging from its perihelion, turned up blank - the comet was nowhere to be seen.

All the Kitt Peak guys were very bummed out, they told me.

But then, late Thursday, ISON started showing signs of life. A tail emerged. It got brighter.

Now, the Kitt Peak guys and NASA are saying part of ISON might have survived. It might just be a dust ball. But it also might still be an intact, though much smaller. 

ISON is not acting like any comet ever seen before. 

Whether this means that the comet will be viewable from Earth in a couple days still remains to be seen. The other reason everyone was excited about ISON was because if it survived, it would track back across the sky and be viewable through binoculars -- or possibly even with the naked eye -- starting Dec. 1.

Everyone is happy again.


Kate Allen is the Star's science and technology reporter. Find her on Twitter at @katecallen


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