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Astronomers bid farewell to a comet

Astrophysics center cancels early-morning viewings of ISON

In this time-lapse image, the Comet ISON comes in from the bottom right and moves out toward the upper right, getting fainter and fainter as it passes the sun.

ESA/NASA/SOHO/SDO/GSFC via Getty Images

In this time-lapse image, the Comet ISON comes in from the bottom right and moves out toward the upper right, getting fainter and fainter as it passes the sun.

It was supposed to be the comet of the century. Then it was the comet that wasn’t, a dirty snowball that disintegrated as it skimmed the sun. Hopes for early-morning viewings of the comet ISON were briefly revived last week as astronomers saw a bright spot that suggested their death knell had been premature.

Now, they are finally ready to say goodbye. RIP, comet ISON.

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The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics sent out a cancellation Monday for its planned comet-watching party in the dawn hours Dec. 14.

“Short of a memorial service, we will not be holding our special event,” wrote David Aguilar, a spokesman for the center. Now, with a bit more data, scientists can see that the bright spot that reemerged was probably just a short-lived chunk of comet.

The SOHO spacecraft, a joint mission of NASA and the European Space Agency, captured what happened and what led to the confusion about whether the comet had or had not survived its brush with the sun.

“ISON valiantly approaches the sun, passes behind it, and then breaks apart, ejecting one small piece that quickly evaporates,” Aguilar wrote.

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