Closely watched comet fizzles out

John von Radowitz

A comet from the fringes of the solar system does not appear to have survived its close encounter with the Sun, scientists have said.

Images from Nasa spacecraft showed Comet Ison approaching for its slingshot around the sun, but nothing coming out on the other side.

In a Google+ hangout, US Navy solar researcher Karl Battams said "Ison probably hasn't survived this journey."

Phil Plait, an astronomer who runs the Bad Astronomy blog, agreed, saying: "I don't think the comet made it."

Nevertheless, he said, it would not be all bad news if the 4.5-billion-year-old rock broke up, because astronomers might be able to study the pieces and learn more about comets.

At 6.37pm last night, comet Ison grazed the outer layers of the sun, approaching as close as 730,000 miles from the star's surface.

The comet encountered temperatures of more than 2,700C, enough to vaporise rock. Even at a greatly reduced size it could have produced a glorious long tail, visible to the naked eye.

Astronomer Dr Dan Brown, from Nottingham Trent University, said: "Astronomers around the world are hoping that Ison will become an amazing sight for the naked eye. They are keeping a close eye on it.

"People at home can also capture a glimpse if it survives. Just look out for it half an hour before sunrise from December 1 onwards."