These GIFs Show What Happened to Comet ISON As It Skidded Across the Sun

These GIFs Show What Happened to Comet ISON As It Skidded Across the Sun
Source: AP
Source: AP

On Thursday, comet C/2012 S1 (better known as ISON) skidded across the surface of the Sun, running through the unimaginable heat and light that emanates from the corona of the solar body. Amazingly, something managed to survive and shoot out the other side.

But what came out, exactly?

Something. It was initially unclear whether the comet completely disintegrated and what's emerged is a cloud of high-velocity dust, or part of the comet had survived and would continue its journey across the stars.

NASA's Karl Battams provided these thrilling high-resolution animations of ISON crossing the Sun's path and emerging:




(Note that these were taken from completely opposite sides of the Sun by NASA's STEREO Ahead and STEREO Behind spacecrafts. Pretty cool, right?)

NASA doesn't have any firm convictions about comet's actual fate, though they've garnered a lot more than they previously knew. Battam "hesitantly" leans towards the hypothesis that there's something left producing a new trail of dust, either a small nucleus or "a pile of rubble and comet chunks" that will fall apart in the near future. ISON is too faint and near the Sun to determine whether or not the comet is still trailing gas, which would be firm proof of a surviving nucleus.

Here's how Slate's Phil Plait described the emerging data available on ISON on Monday:

"... As we get more images of the comet as it heads away from the Sun, its ultimate fate is perhaps a little easier to see. The NASA / ESA spacecraft SOHO has been observing the comet since it entered its field of view on Nov. 28, and has told an interesting if somewhat head-scratchy tale. The solid nucleus of the comet started out about two kilometers wide, and got very bright. It faded rapidly as it approached the Sun, pretty much the opposite of what you might expect. But then it got bright again after it rounded the Sun, though not nearly as bright as before. And now it appears to be fading without stop."

Before it flew through the worst the Sun had to offer, ISON was approximately two kilometers wide composed of rock, gravel, and dust held together by ice. It originated from the Oort Cloud, a near-unending belt of such chunks far beyond Neptune, and was on what appeared to be an escape trajectory from the solar system - meaning that even if it has survived its encounter with the Sun, there's a good chance that whatever is left will be unceremoniously ejected into deep space, never to be seen again.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

MORE FROM

Employees are getting microchips put in their hands at this US company

They cost $300 a piece, but this U.S. company is about to foot the bill for any employee who signs up.

NASA’s working on quieter supersonic flight, which it wants to help commercialize

What if you could spend less time on a plane to get where you're going?

3 reasons why you shouldn’t have fallen for Elon Musk’s hyperloop plans

Musk claims the hyperloop will take us from New York to D.C. in under 30 minutes, but where's the proof?

Why it’s crucial for Californians to turn off their lights during the upcoming solar eclipse

Officials are hoping residents can offset major energy losses by keeping the lights off.

You can help NASA with your solar eclipse observations on Aug. 21

You'll be an eclipse scientist.

Scientists are pretty sure that deep inside the moon, there’s water

The explosive story of water on the moon.

Employees are getting microchips put in their hands at this US company

They cost $300 a piece, but this U.S. company is about to foot the bill for any employee who signs up.

NASA’s working on quieter supersonic flight, which it wants to help commercialize

What if you could spend less time on a plane to get where you're going?

3 reasons why you shouldn’t have fallen for Elon Musk’s hyperloop plans

Musk claims the hyperloop will take us from New York to D.C. in under 30 minutes, but where's the proof?

Why it’s crucial for Californians to turn off their lights during the upcoming solar eclipse

Officials are hoping residents can offset major energy losses by keeping the lights off.

You can help NASA with your solar eclipse observations on Aug. 21

You'll be an eclipse scientist.

Scientists are pretty sure that deep inside the moon, there’s water

The explosive story of water on the moon.