C/2019 Y4: A Comet With a Coma Half The Size of The Sun Breaks Into Pieces

The comet whose coma is calculated at around five times the size of Jupiter and half the size of the Sun has broken into several (at least 4) distinct pieces. 

Comet Atlas, officially designated ATLAS (C/2019 Y4), has apparently fragmented into several pieces as it makes its way towards the sun. According to recent reports, ATLAS C/2019 Y4, dubbed the comet of the century, will not be as spectacular as expected as it appears not to have survived its approach towards the sun. Astronomers have reported, “multiple separate fragmentations within its diffuse coma.”

Although astronomers around the world had hoped the comet would survive its approach to the sun, which would have made it visible to the make eye from Earth, the comet started disintegrating around April 2, 2020. This type of fragmentation event is not uncommon.

 ATLAS (C/2019 Y4) was the brightest comet of 2020 with an apparent magnitude of around 7, although new observations report a magnitude 09, which means it is about six times dimmer than its maximum brightness. Furthermore, comet Atlas is now fainter than C/2017 T2 (PanSTARRS), C/2019 Y1 (ATLAS), and C/2020 F8 (SWAN).

A view of Comet Atlas (Green). Comet ATLAS’s coma (atmosphere) is approximately 15 arcminutes in diameter, according to Michael Jäger of Weißenkirchen, Austria. Image Credit: Michael Jäger.
A view of Comet Atlas (Green). Comet ATLAS’s coma (atmosphere) is approximately 15 arcminutes in diameter, according to Michael Jäger of Weißenkirchen, Austria. Image Credit: Michael Jäger.

Despite the fact that  ATLAS (C/2019 Y4) will not be visible to the make eye, sky gazers can still observe the comet with a telescope looking for it in the constellation of Camelopardalis, where it will appear as a diffuse, green object.

Although previous reports had suggested the comet would further brighten as it approaches the sky, because it has now fragmented, it is not expected to brighten any further. ATLAS (C/2019 Y4) is expected to make its nearest approach to Earth on May 23 and come to its closest point to the sun on May 31. On May 12 the comet will move into the constellation Perseus.

Astronomic observations of the object reveal it has fragmented into at least 4 distinction pieces. The comment is thought to have fragmented as the result of outgassing which caused an increase in the centrifugal force of the comet, something entirely common for comments that travel through the inner solar system. The four distinct fragments of the comet are now designated C/2019 Y4-A, C/2019 Y4-B, C/2019 Y4-C, and C/2019 Y4-D.

ATLAS (C/2019 Y4) is expected to be 117 million km from Earth on May 23, which happens to coincide with a new moon, when the comet will be located 17 degrees from the Sun.

In terms of size, we’ve already reported that the coma of ATLAS (C/2019 Y4) is truly gigantic. Astronomers have revealed that the coma of the comet is around 15 arcminutes in diameter, which falls in terms of size, somewhere between the Sun (1,392,000 km diameter) and Jupiter (139,820 km), according to Space Weather Archive.

In other words, the comet’s coma has been estimated to be around 5 times the size of planet Jupiter, and half the size of the Sun. But that doesn’t mean its rocky core is that big.

As noted in our previous reports, the above comparison makes reference to the gaseous envelope that surrounds the cosmic body, which has been calculated at approximately 719,999 kilometers or 447,387 miles. Our Sun has a diameter of 1,392,678 kilometers (865,370 miles), Jupiter’s diameter is 139,821 kilometers (86,881 miles), and the Earth is just 12,742 kilometers
(7,917 miles).

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