Hubble captures the decay of comet ATLAS into dozens of fragments

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — The space telescope recorded the final death of a celestial body, which could become the brightest comet in the last 13 years.

The European Space Agency has published clear images of the collapse of the once-promising comet into parts made by the Hubble telescope on April 20 and 23. These images provide additional evidence that comet fragmentation is likely to be common and may even be the dominant mechanism for the death of solid ice comet nuclei.

The Hubble discovered approximately 30 fragments of the comet on April 20 and 25 fragments on April 23. All fragments were shrouded in a bright trail of cometary dust. At the time of the survey, the comet was inside the orbit of Mars at a distance of about 145 million kilometers from Earth.

“Their appearance has changed significantly over the course of a couple of days, so much so that it’s quite difficult to put all the facts together. I don’t know if this is due to the fact that certain parts flash and glow, reflecting sunlight, working like flickering lights on a Christmas tree, or because different fragments appear on different days,” – David Gwitt, Professor of Planetology and Astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Because fragmentation is fast and unpredictable, it’s hard for scientists to judge the reasons for the collapse of ATLAS. There is an assumption that the comet breaks into pieces due to the rupture of the core material under the action of evaporating gases. “Further analysis of the Hubble data may show whether this mechanism is responsible for the decay. However, this is a very special shot of a telescope looking at a dying comet,” says Jwitt.

The comet, also known as C / 2019 Y4, was discovered by astronomers from the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) in December 2019. At that time, it was a dull object, but after only a month, its brightness grew by about 4,000 times.

According to scientists, the comet was supposed to be as close to Earth as possible on May 23, 2020. It was predicted that the comet could become visible with the naked eye in mid-May and be the brightest over the past 13 years.

Until mid-March, its luminosity grew, and then suddenly the comet began to fade.

Scientists have suggested that the icy core of a comet is crushed and decays. This version was confirmed by amateur astronomer Jose de Keyros, who photographed three separate fragments of it on April 11.

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