Wow, that didn’t last long! I had hoped to continue with a number of installments about Comet ISON after its close pass by the sun November 28. As you probably have heard, Comet ISON didn’t survive. Actually, a small fragment did survive, but that fragment was so fried that it isn’t putting out much gas or dust anymore. The comet is far too faint to be seen with the naked eye, so, for all practical purposes, it’s gone.
Since July here at the Creation Museum we’ve had a planetarium show called Fires in the Sky about comets in general and Comet ISON in particular. In that show we anticipated what Comet ISON might look like this month. We had planned to revise the show after this month anyway to reflect what the comet indeed had done, and to continue running that show for some time. Now we’ll just have to revise the show more than we had expected.
Still, the catastrophic loss of Comet ISON underscores the major point of the planetarium show: comets indicate that the solar system is far younger than most scientists think. Comets are very fragile. Many astronomers thought Comet ISON was making its first pass by the sun, yet it couldn’t survive even one trip. If the solar system is billions of years old, there ought not to be any comets left, so most astronomers think that the nuclei of comets are held in a sort of cold storage far from the sun, either in the Oort cloud or Kuiper belt. Then occasionally gravitational tugs pull comets in toward the inner solar system. However, there is no evidence that the Oort cloud exists, and the evidence for the Kuiper belt is problematic. On the other hand, if the solar system is only thousands of years old, then there is no problem with comets still being here, despite the rapid rate at which we’re losing them.