The 21st day of September in 2012 has gone down in the history as the day on which two Russian astronomers discovered Comet C/2012 S1, also known as comet ISON. Artyom Novichonok and Vitali Nevski, the two Russian astronomers, spotted this huge chunk through their telescope from near a place called Kislovodsk in Russia. As part of the International Science Optical Network, they were doing a survey of the sky when they chanced upon this comet near the orbit of Jupiter. It did not take them much time to trace back the origin of the comet ISON to outside the Solar System using the images already present.
As a next step, scientists drew up a possible future trajectory of this object. From these researches, it was predicted that this comet might have had its origin in the Oort cloud. This cloud is situated on the far fringes of our solar system and more than a thousand times distant from the sun than the planet Neptune is. Further research brought to light the fact that this cloud, unlike the ones seen from the earth, are composed of loosely bound particles which are huge in size and are frozen in nature. Often, stars or other celestial objects with a huge gravitation pull can wrench away one of these objects from their original location.
Such a situation is what had happened with comet ISON, and is the cause of its journey towards the inner parts of the solar system. A mutli-million kilometers journey that had the sun as the possible destination was also predicted by scientists and astronomers all over the world. For the last several months, the astronomers had been closely watching the path of the comet as it was reaching to a destination. However, speculations were rife about the comet’s possibilities of hitting the sun and disintegrating, as also the possibility of its bypassing it. Both NASA in the USA and the Heliospheric Observatory in Europe had been studying the comet’s movements, hoping to derive the actual past of our solar system and how all the planets were possibly formed.
On the day of Thanksgiving this year, the predictions of the scientists’ world-over came to a realistic situation. The point closest to the orbit of the sun, called the perihelion, was reached by comet ISON during the afternoon on that day. Much in keeping with the mysteries of celestial bodies, ISON had vanished from the telescopes after reaching perihelion. This had led the astronomers to believe that ISON had disintegrated completely, but reality proved otherwise a few hours later. NASA telescopes captured images of an object returning back on its previous course which they thought, and still believe, is the comet’s nucleus.
Though research is still going on the level of disintegration that ISON has suffered, it is a fact that it has not been completely destroyed by the sun. It has been predicted by astronomers that if the remains of the comet do not go through any more disintegration, it will be viewable from the earth in December. According to Karl Battams, who is part of the Washington based Naval Research Laboratory; it is still not time to predict the comet’s current state. Even if it is still bright enough to be visible, it remains to be seen whether its earlier brightness is preserved to an extent desirable by scientists for research purposes.