The trajectory of Comet Atlas through our Solar System is making the cosmic rock more luminous with every day that passes, and astronomers now claim that it could soon rival the brightness of the Moon.
Comet Atlas, also known as C/2019 Y4, will allegedly become incredibly bright as it is heading to the Sun. By late May, it will be about 0.25 AU (astronomical units) away from the Sun; when it will approach it, it could end up emitting as much light as a waxing crescent Moon, the curved lunar event observable at the beginning and end of the Moon’s monthly cycle.
Website Space Weather said: “The comet is about as bright as an 8th or 9th magnitude star. That’s too dim to see with the naked eye but consider this: The comet is hundreds of times brighter than astronomers predicted when it was discovered four months ago by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS). And it’s still beyond the orbit of Mars.”
The report continued: “By the time Comet ATLAS approaches the Sun in May, it could become quite bright, indeed. Estimates range from magnitude +1 to -10; in other words, somewhere between a 1st magnitude star and the waxing crescent Moon.”
The Fate of Comet Atlas is Unknown
Only three weeks ago, amateur astronomer Roman Kulesza from Ontario, Canada, attempted to find Comet Atlas but failed: “It wasn’t easy. But last night – wow! The comet has really brightened.”
Space Weather added: “Can’t wait for May? Amateur astronomers with mid-sized backyard telescopes can observe Comet ATLAS now. Indeed, monitoring is encouraged as the comet is surging in brightness. Outbursts are possible in the weeks ahead as new veins of volatile material are exposed by intensifying sunlight.”
Comet Atlas was first spotted on March 5th, 2019, and it has been categorized as a hyperbolic comet, which means it has an incredibly wide orbit that can reach the deep cosmos before coming back around.
Still, the fate of the wandering ice rock is not clear. Astronomers are not sure yet whether it will turn into dust or will explode as it gets closer to the Sun.