A slim chance Comet ISON survived
New images being analyzed Friday showed a streak of light moving away from the sun that some said could indicate it wasn't game over just yet.
"It certainly appears as if there is an object there that is emitting material," said Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Basically a dirty snowball from the fringes of the solar system, scientists had pronounced Comet ISON dead when it came within one million miles of the sun Thursday. Some sky gazers speculated early on that it might become the comet of the century because of its brightness, though expectations dimmed over time. But it wouldn't be all bad news if the 4.5 billion-year-old space rock broke up into pieces, because some scientists say they might be able to study them and learn more about comets.
Comet ISON was first spotted by a Russian telescope in September 2012, and became something of a celestial flash in the pan last week for its vivid tail - visible by the naked eye - and compelling backstory of impending doom.
The comet was two-thirds of a mile wide as it got within one million miles of the sun, which in space terms means grazing it.
NASA solar physicist Alex Young said Thursday that the comet had been expected to show up in images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft at around noon Eastern time, but almost four hours later there was "no sign of it whatsoever."
Images from other spacecraft showed a light streak continuing past the sun, but Young said that was most likely a trail of dust continuing in the comet's trajectory.
However, instead of fading, that trail appeared to get brighter Friday, suggesting that "at least some small fraction of ISON has remained in one piece," U.S. Navy solar researcher Karl Battams wrote on his blog. He cautioned that even if there is a solid nucleus, it may not survive for long.