Editor's note: see the bottom of this post for an update on the status of this comet.
While families were putting the finishing touches on their Thanksgiving fixings, piling food into their mouths or settling on the couch with their top button undone for an afternoon of football, a rare celestial event occurred Thursday.
It was predicted the Comet ISON (pronounced EYE'-sahn, which some have called the "comet of the century") would meet a fiery death after its encounter with the sun, but astronomers are hanging onto the glimmer of hope that it might have survived. If so, it could produce some spectacular images in early December.
In a composite image provided by NASA, Comet ISON nears the sun in an image captured at 10:51 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013. The sun was imaged by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, and an image from ESA/NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory shows the solar atmosphere, the corona. Scientists are studying spacecraft images to find out whether a small part ISON survived its close encounter with the sun. (AP/ESA&NASA SOHO/SDO)
The comet whipped around the sun only 1 million miles away from the super-hot surface just after 1:30 p.m. ET Nov. 28.
Comet ISON as it approaches the sun in the early morning hours of Nov. 27. At its closes approach, the comet will be 730,000 miles above the sun's surface. (Image source: ESA/NASA/SOHO)
NASA has been tweeting updates on the comet's status ever since, writing that it at first appeared to have fizzled but later the agency re-ignited hope that at piece might have made it.
On Monday, the comet looked like it was would to die even before getting close to the sun, but by Tuesday, it appeared healthy again.
Johns Hopkins University scientist Carey Lisse only gave the comet a 30 percent chance of surviving earlier this week.
"I'd be thrilled to be wrong," he said though, according to Space.com.
In this frame grab taken from enhanced video made by NASA's STEREO-A spacecraft, comet ISON, left, approaches the sun on Nov. 25, 2013. Comet Encke is shown just below ISON, The sun is to the right, just outside the frame. ISON, which was discovered a year ago, is making its first spin around the sun and will come the closest to the super-hot solar surface on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, at 1:37 p.m. EST. (AP/NASA)
U.S. Navy solar researcher Karl Battams wrote on his blog that "it does appear that at least some small fraction of ISON has remained in one piece." He cautioned that even if there is a solid nucleus, it may not survive for long.
Watch NASA's video showing the comet's trajectory toward the sun:
The European Space Agency, which had declared ISON's death on Twitter late Thursday, was backtracking early Friday, saying the comet "continues to surprise."
In this photo provided by NASA, Comet ISON shines brightly in this image taken on the morning of Nov. 19, 2013. This is a 10-second exposure taken with the Marshall Space Flight Center 20" telescope in New Mexico. The comet will pass closest to the sun on Nov. 28, 2013. The camera there is black and white, but the smaller field of view allows for a better "zoom in" on the comet's coma, which is essentially the head of the comet. (AP/NASA, Cameron McCarty)
ISON was detected just over a year ago and is passing through the inner solar system for the first time.
Update: On Dec. 2, NASA announced the comet officially died after is pass by the sun. NASA stated that some piece of it -- debris or nucleus -- might have survived at first, but it is now likely dust. Scientists will continue research in order to determine if a portion of the comet's nucleus survived for a short period of time after whipping around the sun.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.