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Comet ISON Latest: NASA And ESA Start Search For Remains Of 'Comet Of The Century'

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Nasa and the European Space Agency have started their search for the remnants of Comet ISON, the so-called 'Comet of the Century' which combusted just 750,000 miles above the surface of the Sun last week.

It had been hoped that ISON might survive the encounter, and shine brightly in the night skies into December.

But it became clear on Thursday that the icy ball of dust and rock had not been able to withstand the intense heat and radiation, and had mostly broken up by Monday morning.

Fortunately, there is still much that scientists can learn from the comet. Huge amounts of data were gathered before its destruction, and can be used to provide insights into everything from the origins of the Solar System to the nature of comets themselves.

And now scientists at the European Space Agency say there is a 10% chance that pieces of the comet larger than 100m have survived - and may be large enough to continue to study, even as they fly at 828,000mph away from the Sun.

ison comet

Above: In this combination of three images provided by NASA, comet ISON appears as a white smear heading up and away from the sun on Thursday and Friday, Nov. 28-29, 2013.

Gerhard Schwehm, who is the head of solar system science operations at ESA, told MailOnline that while the "brilliant display" that astronomers hoped for is no longer likely, interesting (though difficult) science can still be done.

"As the brightness fades, I believe the source is gone. Perhaps there is a fairly big junk left, but depleted of volatiles. These are really difficult to detect," he told the Mail.

The comet was discovered last year by two amateur astronomers using Russia's International Scientific Optical Network (Ison).

It was born in the Oort cloud, a shell of scattered icy objects right at the outermost edge of the Solar System. The cloud is nearly a light year from the sun, a quarter of the distance to our nearest neighbouring star, Proxima Centauri.

Sometimes a comet is nudged out of the cloud by the gravitational tug of a passing star, and sent on a journey taking millions of years that eventually brings it into the inner Solar System.

Computer models show that Ison was one such comet. However, it was unusual in being a first-time visitor and also in a sun-grazing orbit.

The comet's apparent destruction ended a roughly three million year journey from the Oort Cloud at the edge of our Solar System.

Also on The Huffington Post

Comet ISON: Latest Pictures
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