Washington: Comet ISON may not have broken apart and evaporated in the fierce heat and crushing gravity of the sun before or during a close flyby Thursday.
Well after many casual observers had given up on the comet`s survival, updated pictures from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory spacecraft-SOHO-showed what appeared to be a long trail of dust extending away from the sun along ISON`s trajectory, brightening sharply toward its tip.
Whether it was just a dust trail, or perhaps dust and larger fragments of ISON-or both-was not immediately clear.
As several observers tweeted and re-tweeted: "It is now clear that Comet #ISON either survived or did not survive, or... maybe both. Hope that clarifies things."
From the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory-SOHO-the trail of Comet ISON can be seen entering the frame at lower right, disappearing behind an occultation disk that blocks the sun`s glare and exiting around the 11 o`clock position, brightening as if some portion of the comet`s nucleus might have survived the encounter.
Astronomers are not yet sure exactly what happened during ISON`s close encounter with the sun.
Matthew Knight, an astronomer at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., said in a telephone interview that it wasn`t clear exactly what SOHO was observing.
"Initially when something came out (after close approach), we thought this is just the dust trail and there`s not much left, it`s just going to fade away," he said.
"And then images keep coming in and ... the last few, it seems pretty definitely like it`s getting brighter. So we do not have a good answer as to what`s going on.
"My best guess right now, and it`s really only an educated guess, is that there is something left, probably smaller fragments, because it still doesn`t look like there`s a nuclear condensation. Inbound, the leading edge was brighter. It doesn`t look like that. It just looks to me like there are some smaller fragments that may just actually be disintegrating. They just took longer to do it," he said.
But it`s also possible, he said, there could be "still a substantial nucleus there and it`s actually outgassing.