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Incineration likely ends comet's long journey

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By USA Today
Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, 7:21 p.m.

Like Icarus, comet ISON appears to have flown too close to the sun and broken up in its corona.

Scientists had hoped that the comet from the farthest reaches of the solar system would be able to slingshot around the sun on Thursday and emerge streaming a tail visible to the naked eye next month.

But after NASA telescopes tracked the comet plunging into the sun's corona, no evidence of it emerged on the other side. Scientists said they would continue to analyze imagery from the telescopes for signs of the comet or debris from it breaking up.

“At this point, I do suspect that the comet has broken up and died,” says Karl Battams, a comet scientist for the Naval Research Laboratory, who joined a NASA and Google+ chat from Kitt Peak Observatory in Arizona. “Let's at least give it a couple of more hours before we start writing the obituary.”

Even if the comet broke up, it offered a rare opportunity to see how one of the oldest objects in the solar system interacted with the sun's magnetic field.

The comet originated in the Oort Cloud, a region halfway from the sun to the next closest star.

But while scientists have tracked other comets from the Oort Cloud, Battams said this one was the first in recorded astronomy from so far away that passed so close to the sun, passing the sun at a distance of about 1 million miles.

“This is a spectacularly rare event,” Battams said. “We have no idea when we're going to see something this amazing again.”

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