Hubble Telescope Saw Comet ATLAS Break Up Into Dozens Of Fragments
NASA and ESA's Hubble space telescope recorded the breakup of comet C / 2019 Y4 (ATLAS). These are the most detailed images of the comet's core decay process to date. Images and information about this event are published on the NASA website.
Comet C / 2019 Y4 was discovered on December 29, 2019, by the robotic astronomical survey system ATLAS (Asteroid Terrain-impact Last Alert System) in Hawaii. Until mid-March, its luminosity increased, and then suddenly the comet began to dim.
Scientists have suggested that the comet's icy core is breaking up and breaking apart. This version was confirmed by Amateur astronomer Jose de Queiroz, who photographed three separate fragments of it on April 11.
On April 20, the Hubble space telescope identified 30 debris moving in the tail of comet dust. When the next image was received on April 23, there were already 25 fragments.
"Their appearance changes significantly over the course of two days, so much so that it is quite difficult to match the dots," said David Jewitt, a professor of planetary science and astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles, and head of one of the two teams that photographed the comet's breakup, in a press release. — I don't know if this is because individual parts flash and glow, reflecting sunlight, acting like flickering lights on a Christmas tree, or because different fragments appear on different days."
Since fragmentation occurs quickly and unpredictably, it is difficult for scientists to confidently judge the causes of the collapse of C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS). There is an assumption that the comet breaks up into pieces due to the rupture of the core material under the action of evaporating gases.
Since the output of gases from the interior of the comet increases and this happens unevenly, the speed of rotation of the core increases, which leads to its fragmentation.
"This is really exciting, both because such events are very spectacular, and because they do not happen very often. Most of the fragments of comets are usually too dim to see them. Events of this magnitude happen once or twice a decade," says the leader of the second Hubble observation team, Quanzhi Ye, from the University of Maryland.
In any case, these are the first observations that allow us to trace in detail the dynamics of the decay of the comet's core, which is quite fast. Scientists believe that the observed process may be one of the main mechanisms of comet death, and further observations of C / 2019 Y4 (ATLAS) will help to understand it.
"Further analysis of Hubble data can show whether this mechanism is responsible for the collapse," says Jewitt.
The decaying comet was observed inside the orbit of Mars, at a distance of approximately 145 million kilometers from Earth. The closest comet, or what's left of it, will come to Earth on May 23. Then the cosmic body will be about 115 million kilometers from our planet, and in eight days it will pass just 37 million kilometers from the Sun.