| Update: On April 12, it was announced that the Atlas Comet will not be putting on a show after all, as it is falling apart. Virtual Telescope Project founder and director Gianluca Masi said in a statement. “Its nucleus disintegrated, and last night I could see three, possibly four main fragments.” |
A comet which appears every 5500 years is expected to be visible to the naked in eye from around the end of April.
The approaching comet was first viewed late last year by astronomers at the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (Atlas) project in Hawaii.
It’s known as the C-2019-Y4 Atlas Comet, or simply the Atlas Comet.
Comets are recognized by the amazing tails which trail behind them, a result of ice and dust vaporizing.
Astronomers have described the comet, which exhibits a gassy plumage, as looking like a ‘large, dirty snowball’.
There is however no guarantee on how impressive the comet sighting will be for the naked human eye.
There have been mixed messages on this. Some astronomers hope it will provide a similar wow factor to that of the 1997 Hale-Bopp comet brought about.
Others though are concerned that it appears as if the comet may be fragmenting.
It has reportedly already fragmented into 10 pieces, but six of those pieces have continued to rotate around the nucleus.
“The frustrating thing about comets,” said astrophysicist Karl Battams from the Naval Research Laboratory and NASA’s Sungrazing Comets Project.
“Is we often don’t know exactly what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. There’s still a chance that Comet Atlas is just ‘taking a breather’ before another outburst. But I wouldn’t count on it.”
Is the comet on a collision course with earth?
Not to worry, the comet will only get as close as 100 million miles from our planet.
“Coming to within 100 million miles of the earth, very close in astronomical terms, it presents no risk to the earth. But does have the potential to lift people’s spirits as we go through the current crisis,” said Yorkshire based astronomer George McManus.
When can you see the Atlas comet?
Those with access to telescopes and high powered binoculars have already been able to see the Atlas Comet.
It’s expected to come into view for the naked human eye towards the end of this month. But because of the unpredictable nature of comets, we’ll have to wait to find out just how spectacular a show it is.
‘Comets are notoriously unpredictable, so stay tuned!” read a post on a NASA blog site.
Pic credit: NASA/ Tiffany Clements