Space enthusiasts have been keeping a keen eye on Comet ATLAS this year as it made its way through the solar system. Comet ATLAS, also known as C/2019 Y4 but nicknamed ATLAS as it was discovered by the telescope array system of the same name, was first discovered on March 5, 2019, and stunned the astronomy community as it was heading directly towards the Sun.
After more than a year’s worth of travelling, the comet has only just made its way past Mars.
But astronomers in April noted the comet had begun crumbling apart, bringing an end to its voyage.
However, astronomers believe a new comet has formed from the debris of the crumbling space rock, leading them to describe it as a “comet within a comet”.
This is because a tail of gas has been observed spewing from one of the fragments, caused by solar heating.
Astronomer Michael Jäger of Jauerling, Austria, snapped the image of the newly formed comet with the gaseous tail, which is heading towards the Sun.
Website Space Weather said: “Comet ATLAS (C/2019 Y4) continues to amaze. First, in March, it was supposed to become as bright as Venus.
“Then, in April, it fell apart. Now, in May, it seems to have become a ‘comet within a comet.’
“This new image from Michael Jäger of Jauerling, Austria shows a mini-comet with a distinct tail inside the larger envelope of ATLAS’s green atmosphere.
“Clearly, one of the fragments of ATLAS’s crumbling core has sprung a tail of its own, spewing an independent plume of gas and dust within the larger whole.
“What will happen next? Comet ATLAS is plunging toward the sun with a close approach on May 31st inside the orbit of Mercury.
“Intense solar heating could cause the battered core to fragment further, activating new ‘internal comets’, or the whole assembly could disintegrate into a haze of dust and gas.”
Another comet was recently discovered which is following a similar trajectory to Comet ATLAS.
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Comet SWAN (C/2020 F8) was discovered on April 11 which, like ATLAS was meant to, will arrive at the orbit of Mercury in late May.
The comet was first discovered by Michael Mattiazzo of Swan Hill, Victoria, Australia, when he was analysing data from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory’s (SOHO) SWAN instrument – hence the name.
SWAN’s job is to scan the solar system for hydrogen, so for it to see the comet suggests Comet SWAN is currently emitting a lot of hydrogen at the moment.
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