Washington: One or more fragments could have gotten detached from comet ISON in the past days, as two wing-shaped features in the comet`s atmosphere suggest.
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany and the Wendelstein Observatory of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich (Germany) discovered these features in images taken at the end of last week.
The fragmentation may offer an explanation for the comet`s recent outburst of activity.
On November 28, 2013, the comet will fly by the Sun in a distance of only 1.8 million kilometers. However, on November 7th, ISON`s light intensity increased abruptly; several observers announced a sudden rise in the comet`s activity.
Images of ISON taken by scientists from the MPS and the Wendelstein Observatory now offer possible evidence for the cause of this outburst. On November 14th and 16th, the researchers aimed their telescope towards the approaching visitor.
The researchers` analyzes show two striking features within the comet`s atmosphere that protrude from the nucleus in a wing-like fashion. While these so-called coma wings were still rather faint on November 14th, they dominate the images taken two days later.