BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- The sun's power apparently proved too much for Comet ISON.
After some initial confusion, Alex DeMetrick reports NASA now believes only pieces of the comet may have survived.
Through the Hubble Space Telescope, Comet ISON looked like it might match the hype but instead of the comet of the century, it was gone in the blink of an eye.
"We were pretty shocked when we were sitting there watching the data come in live and absolutely nothing," said Dr. Alex Young, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
Young studies the sun at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Spacecraft trained on the sun showed Comet ISON's approach. Everything looked normal until it didn't, and it vanished. But then something popped out from behind the sun in the 10 o'clock position.
"It probably broke up a lot and then what we saw was a small bit of it. Certainly a much smaller version of itself," Young said.
The sun's solar radiation might have done it, or the pressure waves from its atmosphere. But a lost comet doesn't mean lost science. The solar forces that tore ISON apart are normally invisible but the comet's debris may change that.
"To probe the sun's atmosphere in a way we can't normally do," Young said.
They can use comet dust like fingerprint dust to tease out the sun's magnetic field.
"If you see that, then you're able to get a tracer, basically, of those invisible features we can't normally see," Young said.
As for seeing another spectacular comet, there's still plenty of century left.
The destruction of ISON also gives science an opportunity to better understand how the comet was constructed.
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