Comet ATLAS is also known as C/2019 Y4. It was discovered by the the telescope array system with the same name – Atlas – on the 5th of March, 2019. It was a great discovery for the astronomy community since it was heading towards the Sun.
After one year of traveling, the comet has made its way past Mars, but astronomers found an interesting thing: it is falling apart.
They hoped that the icy comet would not hold out until it actually got close enough to the Sun so that it would be as visible in the night sky as Venus – which basically looks like a bright star. But it is falling apart, unfortunately.
Comet ATLAS Broke Apart
Karl Battams, of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC, stated: “It’s possible that this is the beginning of the end. The comet’s orbit is now being influenced by ‘non-gravitational’ forces. These forces are the result of gases lifting off the comet nucleus and causing the nucleus to move very slightly in the opposite direction–sort of like a jet engine.”
Most of the active comets out there are experiencing this to some extent, but the non-gravitational forces of ATLAS have taken place so suddenly, and they are strong. This suggests that a small nucleus can be pushed very strongly by gas. Also, ATLAS is a fragment of a large comet, which is related to the Great Comet of 1844. Fragmentation runs in the family.
Karl Battams stated that this might not actually be the end for ATLAS, but we won’t fully understand it until it will meet its ending. The most annoying thing about comets is that they don’t exactly know where they’re going or what they are doing. ATLAS might just be taking a breath before bursting again. But, also, it might not be the case.