A comet on its way into our inner solar system could offer a spectacular, blazing display from late April – with experts saying it has the potential to be “stunning”.
Comet Atlas has grown thousands of times brighter than when it was spotted by scientists at the University of Hawaii – and it could be visible to the naked eye in the coming month.
Daniel Brown of Nottingham Trent University told The Times, “It’s definitely a promising comet. It’s pushing towards a level that by the end of April could look really, really stunning.”
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Comet Atlas was spotted at the end of December by astronomers using the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (Atlas) in Hawaii.
The comet, also known as C/2019 Y4, will pass inside the orbit of Mercury, and if it survives the sun's heat, it could offer a spectacular display, EarthSky reported.
Its closest approach is more than two months away, and it has brightened by nearly 4,000 times since early February.
Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab told Space Weather Archive: “Comet Atlas continues to brighten much faster than expected, Some predictions for its peak brightness now border on the absurd.
“Right now the comet is releasing huge amounts of its frozen volatiles [gases]. That’s why it’s brightening so fast.”
Abhijit Patil spotted Comet Atlas on 27 March, 2020, from near Killington, Vermont. He said it was the “first comet I have ever seen or captured with a camera or naked eye. It was thrilling to see it and take a photo of it in my camera.
“Comet Atlas Y4 was discovered in December 2019. It is at a distance of approx 72 million miles from Earth at its closest approach. The nucleus of the comet is 10km in diameter while the gases around it spread a few miles across.
“The comet is visible in the night sky in the North direction and can be seen through small telescopes. It is expected to brighten in the coming weeks. It should be visible to the unaided eye from dark sky sites.”