Comet ISON Befuddles the Experts

Take a ball of loosely aggregated rock and ice, the nucleus of a comet, fresh from the distant reaches of the solar system.  Throw it past the sun, really fast, but so close that the sun takes up a large fraction of the sky.  What’s going to happen?  The answer: nobody knows for sure.  Yesterday we actually got to see this experiment carried out by nature.  And what happened?  After all the photographs and other data, nobody knows for sure.  Comet ISON dimmed sharply and virtually disappeared, then, in part, reappeared [see the SOHO satellite’s latest photo below, showing a medium-bright comet-like smudge receding from the sun, which is blacked out to protect the camera.]  What is its future, and how bright will it be in the sky when it starts to be potentially visible at dawn in a day or two?  Nobody knows for sure.

[Note Added — Now we know: the comet did not survive, and the bright spot that appeared shortly after closest approach to the sun appears to have been all debris, without a cometary “core”, or nucleus, to produce the additional dust and gas to maintain the comet’s appearance.  Farewell, ISON!  Click here to see the video of the comet’s pass by the sun, its brief flare after passage, and the ensuing fade-out.]

I could not possibly express this better than was done last night in a terrific post by Karl Battams, who has been blogging for NASA’s Comet ISON Observing Campaign. He playfully calls ISON “Schroedinger’s Comet”, in honor of Schroedinger’s Cat, referring to a famous and conceptually puzzling thought-experiment of Erwin Schroedinger, in which a cat is (in a sense) put in a quantum state in which it is neither/both alive nor/and dead. Linking the comet and the cat is a matter of poetic metaphor, not scientific analogy, but the metaphor is a pretty one.

Battams’ post beautifully captures the slightly giddy mindset of a scientist in the midst of intellectual chaos, one whose ideas, expectations and understanding are currently strewn about the solar system. He brings to you the experience of being flooded with data and being humbled by it… a moment simultaneously exciting and frustrating, when scientists know they’re about to learn something important, but right now they haven’t the faintest idea what going on.

33 responses to “Comet ISON Befuddles the Experts

  1. That was precisely my own feeling this morning reading his post. We are left with mildly annoyed and in sheer wonder at what is happening – that’s real science for you!

  2. This is a clear example of the humbleness behind the value proposition that science in general offers to society:

    Science has no pretentions of monopoly of the truth, everything in science operates under the premise of “work in progress”.

    Kind regards, GEN

  3. I saw an astronomer’s comment: “Comets are like cats – they have tails and they do whatever they want to.” Seems to sum it up.

  4. In this case, this is a cat that is wagging the entire Solar System instead of wagging its tail: we are all amused and at the same time, at a loss regarding what will be the outcome of its visit.

    Kind regards, GEN

  5. I still remember those incredible images of (the comet) Shoemaker Levy 9, breaking up in a train of debris by the effect of tidal forces from Jupiter and its last act, being swallowed by the cloudy atmosphere, leaving behind those beautiful waves as its final traces.

    Indeed, comets are some temperamental creatures, that follow some unexpected paths every now and then.

    Kind regards, GEN

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  7. Tony(Rácz)Rotz

    Part of the fun, mystery and joy of science. A tale, or is it tail, of fire and ice.

  8. There is a nice comparison of ISON with another sungrazing comet:

    What’s left of ISON does not seem to be forming a new cometary tail (yet?). The haze looks more like cloud of material spread out by tidal forces.

  9. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist

    I think it’s really great how the emotions/reactions of the scientists involved are making it into the media reports. “We don’t know, but can’t wait to see!” and “I hope it makes it” have really been fun to read. I worked with a student who wouldn’t celebrate weird things that happened in lab. I would say “hey, cool! that was weird, let’s see if it does it again!” She would say “ok . . . but we’re not done with the project yet.” I tried to talk with her about how waiting until we were “done” was an odd way to approach research. What’s funny is that she was really great doing coursework (homework, tests, etc). She went to grad school and really struggled. But she tried again a year later and hit her stride. She told me that she’d finally learned to celebrate weird stuff!

    What should we be watching for to guard against society-at-large thinking that we’re just hypothesis testing (with our pocket protectors)? What I mean is, this story is really great, but, for me, it’s great because it’s so refreshing, as far as reports of science in the media go. I’d love to know what to watch for when things go the other (more usual) way.

    • “The journey is the destination.” OK, that sounds like Eastern mystical stuff, but think about it. Science, or any intellectual endeavor, typically doesn’t generate answers – just more questions. I think it’s partly the way we teach. The semester comes to an end; we have to have a conclusion for the final exam.

      Well, my thing is medieval history and it don’t work that way. Whenever I give a lecture, I start by cautioning that you can’t (except in rare occasions) say things changed drastically at some point (enough so we could make a watershed division). It don’t work that way.

      Same with science; we’ve found that 96% of everything that’s out there in the universe is dark matter or dark energy and we don’t know what that is. Don’t you find that exciting? I sure as heck do.

      What I love about Matt Strassler’s blog is he can make it understandable to people like me who have a fascination but no real technical background.

      I’m 71 years old and so many times I wish I was 20 because there is so much that the younger generation is going to find out. It’s a great time.

  10. /First, the charged particles in the wind “ionize” atoms around the comet — they strip electrons off those atoms, making them charged too./

    At short distance and high energy (to the nucleus of sun), the supersymmetrical vacua become prominent ?
    — or sounds like my Eastern mystical stuff ?

    • NOT MYSTICAL AT ALL! I personally know exactly what you’re talking about and even have a pretty decent idea of what happened based around the principles of the Schwarzschild Radius, but in order to prove that I need to convince some other physicist that I’m right about another thing, Really several other things, simultaneously as they all amount to the same end goal of understanding all branches of science fully. Sure it’s Incredibly complicated but yet it’s so stupidly simple I can’t believe we haven’t unlocked this knowledge earlier.

      I bet you and a couple others here may have a somewhat similar mental visualization/understanding of things that appear to be impossible to translate to people who believe they know (and have seen) everything their is to know about their opinions. Sounds weird, trust me I know that.

      I came here to get Matt’s email so I can include him on something that is I think is very important which I am about to email to Jeffery Newman regarding a recent article he wrote for Symmetry Magazine about Baryonic Acoustic Oscillations. These I believe are what control every single wavelength across the spectrum. (EXACTLY HOW Rf frequencies can Control Magnetic field polarity) BAZINGA!!!!!

      Oh and there’s more but I’ll refrain for now.

      The implications of this are so profound and yet how I know this shit makes ZERO sense to even me!!! I’m a 28 year old college drop out who had terrible grades (because of America’s standardized LINEAR bottom-up teaching style instituted in every school of this nation), and never once took a physics class I am a Visual/spatial learner thinker (Top-down learner) and have had to teach myself in my own time the things I love. Physics is one of those things. I can’t calculate all the formulas because I can’t not learn linearly and have not had much luck remembering complex mathematical equations, but I can tell you, I know I’m right on these things, without explain to you or even myself: HOW! To explain this mathematically I must work in conjunction with a highly imaginative team of Linear learners in each industry who has remembered the formulas to which my concepts will apply.

      I have been sending information to A guy named Kurt Reisselman @ Fermilab’s Symmetry magazine, but since 11/15/13 I haven’t been getting responses from the guy on the last of couple emails in which I’m giving pieces to these puzzles. Yet, coincidentally every damn article they have released is based around the same principles I am suggesting, and even the images in the articles is something I either had already drawn many months ago (but with far more detail than they have due to lack of a complete understanding) or is something that I’ve seen happening with my own eyes and that anyone else can too. I just have to explain it properly to get these folks to see it. This is clearly difficult to do without any credentials such as a degree it seems.

      People need to be a little more open minded when people suggest ideas that only “appear contradictory” to their personal beliefs because really there is ALWAYS a quantitative relationship that exists between those conflicting ideas that will unite/validate both belies. Such as the contradiction of Science and Religion, The relationship exists but I can’t explain that without people understanding that a perpetually cyclical multiverse not only is mathematically possible but that it does in fact exist/ which I can then apply those properties to easy to understand comparisons for people of all religions (yes there’s a true relationship between ALL religions too, I’m not getting into that here. I don’t have time.

      I can’t wait until someone takes the time to hear me out with an open mind for a change. There is still time to correct the problems we have created in (and also ‘for’) this world of ours, until we’re officially out of time. Make sense? Good.

      Perhaps greed/control is exactly what has suppressed our civilizations true advancement potential what can NOW no longer be suppressed due to the rise of the internet and global scientific cooperation, even global commerce.

      Information can now spread as fast as a virus would globally from an infected person on an international Flight. Well metaphorically I feel Like I’m infected and don’t even know how; but you are all the people on my flight that I must interact with to spread this knowledge virally. lmao

      Warm Regards,

      Christopher Morris Williams

      • Christopher Morris Williams, your Enlightenment may be justified, it is up to you.
        /Perhaps greed/control is exactly what has suppressed our civilizations/-
        What is science ? – systematization? – Science was the product of Enlightenment, but not the systematization. Economic systems made it speculative and created hedge fund billionaires.
        Voltaire (1694 – 1778) envisaged like you at the dawn of industrial aristocracy. Enlightenment ended with him, greed/control started.

        /perpetually cyclical multiverse not only is mathematically possible but that it does in fact exist/—
        In 1926 Max Planck wrote an important paper on the basics of thermodynamics. He indicated the principle…
        “The internal energy of a closed system is increased by an isochoric adiabatic process.”

        We know mass = energy because radioactivity reduces the mass. So there is overall reduction of mass in universe due to entropy.

        /The recognition of the relation between combustion and metabolism was a forerunner of the recognition that the metabolism of living organisms and combustion can be understood in terms of fundamentally related chemical processes.”/ – This is same like your statement –> /there is ALWAYS a quantitative relationship that exists between those conflicting ideas that will unite/validate both belies. Such as the contradiction of Science and Religion, The relationship exists/.

        /Landauer’s Principle(non-information bearing degrees of freedom) says there is a direct connection between these processes and the thermodynamic arrow of time, the increase in entropy throughout the universe./

        This proves the expansion of space ?, if Speed of light is constant and the universe is expanding, so what is happening to time? where goes the overall reduction of mass ? – to multiverse ?

        Warmest Regards.

  11. Don’t miss XKCD on the comet, there are cute physics and whimsy.

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  14. /The comet did not survive/ – this blog.
    /Comet ISON May Have Survived/- NASA.
    Certainly there’s lots of dust, If there’s gas, there’s almost certainly an active nucleus; if there’s almost no gas then probably no nucleus.

    Even if, “Time is exactly the order of events” – the time travel inside ISON’s nucleus should be faster, after producing gas than, before it was intact.

  15. This is a scientific forum, so, we should support arguments with facts from proper, valid sources:

    As far as can be argued from the info available, the comet has turned into mainly renmants of the comet.

    Kind regards, GEN

  16. The peculiar end of ISON should be seen as a very interesting research item.

    What are the differences in the light characteristics before and after the solar passage.

    I bet that before lots of Hydrogen is seen as is normal for comets.
    After the passage only water vapor is left.

    There is a MAGIC hydrogen producing nucleus plunged into the sun.
    WHAT is it?
    A new paradigm micro black hole.

    • Conclusion,
      :The bright spot moving away from the sun after solar passage is a Comet without a magic hydrogen ( and other simple atoms) producing nucleus!

      • /A new paradigm micro black hole./– So the mass of nucleus has been expanded now ?

          • Thank you Mr.Leo Vuyk,
            /The Fermion repelling horizon of Black holes (fig.7,8,9) is also the origin of vacuum polarisation between pairing Black holes leading to the fast creation of Stars by Stellar Anchor Black Holes (SABHs), Galaxies, (Cygnus A: fig 5) Herbig Haro objects, the pairing of Sunspots Alfven circuits and Birkeland currents./

            Black hole evaporation: When particles escape, the black hole loses a small amount of its energy and therefore some of its mass (mass and energy are related by Einstein’s equation E = mc²).
            The power emitted by a black hole in the form of Hawking radiation can easily be estimated for the simplest case of a nonrotating, non-charged Schwarzschild black hole of mass M.

            This new paradigm black holes explain black hole evaporation ?

          • Veeramohan, Q-FFF theory states that BHs have a Higgs/photon nucleus which is in constant struggle for equilibirum with the incoming dense Higgs field vacuum , so small BHs evaporate as a whole ( Ball Lightning ) most Cometary BHs nuclei keep growing by this process just like Sunspots.
            So Hawking radiation does only exist for ball lightning nuclei .
            I keep this as short as possible. There is much more to say about fermion creation and repelling, see my Vixra essay.

          • A second example of small evaporating BHs are in my perspective, so caled Comet ufos or wormhole comets in our own atmosphere. see:

          • The origine of Ufo Comet seems to be so called Sprites producing multiple fireballs, see:

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