Sky-watchers had high hopes for the arrival of Comet ISON. It was forecast to be the 'comet of the century', and was destined to have had a significant impact on both the worlds of astronomy and astrology. Unfortunately, the predictions all fell short of the reality, as instead it evaporated in a blaze of glory as it rounded the sun.
This comes as a bitter blow for those who were waiting to witness its brilliance, as during December ISON was meant to have been a glorious and shining presence in our morning skies. It was suggested that it would even outshine the full moon in daylight and would be visible to the naked eye for some time, though it was apparently a very rare example which unusually glowed green instead of white.
It became evident that things were not progressing as scientists first thought when the comet began to brighten much more gradually than expected, though as its perihelion approached it gained in intensity, eventually reaching a brightness level that was visible without the aid of a telescope. Then just 12 hours before perihelion, ISON was seen to flare dramatically, though it is now known that this brightening signalled the end for ISON. NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory captured data showing the trajectory of the comet as it hurtled towards the Sun, briefly emerged from the other side and then disintegrated into a pile of space dust as its nucleus was blasted by the intense heat and gravitational pull of the Sun.
A spokesperson from NASA said: “There's no doubt that the comet shrank in size considerably as it rounded the sun and there's no doubt that something made it out on the other side to shoot back into space. The question remains as to whether the bright spot seen moving away from the sun was simply debris, or whether a small nucleus of the original ball of ice was still there. Regardless, it is likely that it is now only dust.”
The death of the comet has had its benefits: for astronomers it has yielded valuable information, and they have been able to collect important data by studying the light reflected on dust particles which were expelled from the centre of the comet's exploded nucleus. This has enabled scientists to analyze the composition of the comet in more detail and will give them further insights into the formation of our Solar System.
Astrologically, ISON was thought to be extremely significant, its powerful energy passing through the signs of Cancer, Leo, Virgo and Sagittarius before it rounded the sun. UK based astrologer, broadcaster, TV personality and Sunday Times best- selling author, Michele Knight, explained that comets, in general, herald great changes, particularly those of such import as ISON: "The visit of any comet brings change and transformation and a great comet which ISON is, heralds these themes but played out on a massive scale."
Even the dramatic demise of the celestial body could now have an astrological impact, says Ms. Knight, who suggests that we should use its ending as an opportunity to rid ourselves of unwanted internal 'debris'.
"It has been a personal cleansing and evolution," she says." The comet "lit up" what was hidden within us and we all had some kind of personal revelation of a block or shadow. A lot of old stuff has been 'burned away' leaving us still a bit raw but able to build solid foundations and know ourselves a lot better. However, as in all things, we are still growing, healing and transforming. The comet told us we cannot hide.
So, if the astrological approach is an indication, the rise and fall of comet ISON has given us an opportunity to let in the light, purge our souls and embrace any changes to come, which cannot be a bad thing. It has been such an iconic feature in our heavens, possibly more so than any comet for years, that some people are having difficulty in believing that its shining light has really been extinguished. A small faction of observers have been holding out hope that the ancient comet, or at least some part of it, had survived its singeing voyage past the sun, but NASA has confirmed that Comet ISON has definitely joined the realms of the dearly departed and so it seems we must say good-bye.
One scientist, Karl Battams, a scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory, has even written it a touching obituary:
"Never one to follow convention, ISON lived a dynamic and unpredictable life, alternating between periods of quiet reflection and violent outburst," Battams wrote in his moving tribute to the deceased comet. "Survived by approximately several trillion siblings, Comet ISON leaves behind an unprecedented legacy for astronomers, and the eternal gratitude of an enthralled global audience."
“However, its toughened exterior belied a complex and delicate inner working that only now we are just beginning to understand. In late 2013, comet ISON demonstrated not only its true beauty but a surprising turn of speed as it reached its career defining moment in the inner solar system. Tragically, on November 28, 2013, ISON’s tenacious ambition outweighed its ability, and our shining green candle in the solar wind began to burn out.”
Unknown Country monitored ISON's journey with interest and enthusiasm, and we feel a sense of sadness at the loss of what could have been one of the most memorable heavenly bodies any of us were likely to see this century. Dear ISON, we hope you rest in pieces..far, far away from Earth.