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Comet ISON Gets Mixed Reviews

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By Jay Michaels

Twin Falls, Idaho ( KMVT-TV / KTWT-TV ) Comet ISON came and went, and now it's on the way out of the solar system. So what was everybody's opinion of that cosmic visitor?

Comet ISON had the potential to be very bright. That's true, but it was brightest when it was closest to the sun. Astronomers explained ISON was a "sun grazer," which meant it passed closer than the diameter of the sun itself. When ice hits 5000 degrees, it vaporizes.

Chris Anderson, Centennial Observatory Coordinator, says, "Comet ISON ended up being a much smaller chunk of ice that most people realized. The latest observations that I saw said it was less than a mile across. That's not a very big mass to withstand heat. So it basically vaporized, and what was left behind was dust, and tiny bits of debris.

Anderson explains ISON's brightness dropped off even before passing the sun. That means the comet started to "go to pieces" then. Some observers added their own meaning to this cosmic event to explain it.

College of Southern Idaho student Alex Anta says, "Maybe in different cultures, maybe South Africa or South America, where there are still Indian tribes, and they still can't comprehend the meaning."

Anderson points out there's not much left to ISON. And while it's possible earth might plow through the comet dust left behind, the resulting meteor shower shouldn't be any more dramatic than a typical one.

Anderson says, "That stuff is all still following the same orbital path that the comet as a whole object as a whole object to begin with. There's really nothing to change that. So it's going to keep following the same path it was, as now just sort of a dust cloud moving through the solar system, slowing dissipating because of the sunlight pushing it apart."

Bright comets show up every decade or so. Anderson encourages us to be patient. There will be more.

December 3, 2013.


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