Mat KaplanDec 10, 2013

Planetary Radio: Comet ISON, Rest in Pieces

Oh, comet ISON.  You went viral, then you went to pieces.  It wasn’t your fault.  Your course was set millions of years ago in a chance encounter with one of your sisters in that distant cloud called Oort.  You didn’t ask to be called “the comet of the century.”  How could you live up to that level of expectation?  Fortunately, scientists and observers around the world would redeem you.  They shook their heads when the popular media went overboard.  Then they went back to their telescopes and spacecraft and made you the most comprehensively examined comet in history.  You may also be remembered as the most scientifically illuminating.

Karl Battams of the Naval Research Laboratory gave up endless hours of sleep to help lead NASA’s Comet ISON Observing Campaign (CIOC).  He and his colleague, Matthew Knight, were at the Kitt Peak National Observatory for the climax of ISON’s face off with the Sun.  You may have caught Karl’s blogs here at, or on the CIOC site. He had only just returned home to Washington DC when I got him for this week’s Planetary Radio episode.  It’s a great conversation about how resources throughout the inner solar system followed ISON to its doom, gathering beautiful images and data that will tell us more about, not just the comet, but the star it passed so close to. 

You’ll also hear Bill Nye talk about his open letter to President Obama asking for support of planetary science—the kind of science that was able to respond so thoroughly when ISON dropped by the neighborhood.  Last I checked, Bill’s video message had been viewed nearly 800,000 times.  Bruce Betts also wrote about ISON, along with Emily Lakdawalla and guest bloggers.  Their work is collected at  Bruce reports that there is much, much more to see in the current night sky, and he joins me in offering the awesome 2014 Year in Space wall calendar as our new prize in the What’s Up Space Trivia Contest.

No Emily this week.  She’s exploring the vast annual conference of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, and will provide a report on next week’s show.  She's already writing about it in her blog.

I didn’t find time to write about last week’s show, but I highly recommend it.  Caltech and Bruce Murray’s family allowed us to present excerpts from the celebration of Dr. Murray’s amazingly accomplished life as an explorer, teacher, scientist, JPL Director, and co-founder of the Planetary Society.  I’m so thankful to have worked with this wonderful man.

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