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Comet ISON likely broke up, scientists say

Karl Ritter Associated Press

STOCKHOLM – Once billed as the comet of the century, Comet ISON apparently was no match for the sun.

Images from NASA spacecraft showed the comet approaching for a slingshot around the sun on Thursday, but nothing coming out on the other side.

“It does seem like Comet ISON probably hasn’t survived this journey,” U.S. Navy solar researcher Karl Battams said in a Google+ hangout.

Phil Plait, an astronomer who runs the “Bad Astronomy” blog, agreed, saying “I don’t think the comet made it.”

Still, he said, it wouldn’t be all bad news if the 4.5-billion-year-old space rock broke up into pieces because astronomers might be able to study them and learn more about comets.

“This is a time capsule looking back at the birth of the solar system,” he said.

The comet was two-thirds of a mile wide as it got within 1 million miles of the sun, which in space terms basically means grazing it.

Comet ISON was first spotted by a Russian telescope in September last year.

Some sky gazers speculated early on that it might become the comet of the century because of its brightness, although expectations dimmed as it got closer to the sun.

Made up of loosely packed ice and dirt, it was essentially a dirty snowball from the Oort cloud, an area of comets and debris on the fringes of the solar system.

Two years ago, a smaller comet, Lovejoy, grazed the sun and survived, but fell apart a couple of days later.

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