An astronomer from Austria spotted on ATLAS, which has already fragmented, another comet currently approaching Earth. Based on the photo captured by the astronomer, it seems a new comet has appeared within ATLAS' atmosphere.
ATLAS, which is officially known as C/2019, was discovered last year using the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) in Hawaii. Observations in April revealed that the comet has started breaking apart into multiple pieces.
Photographing Comet ATLAS
Currently, the fragments of the comet are on their way to reach their closest distance to Earth, which is expected to take place on Saturday (May 23). ATLAS will approach Earth from a distance of 73 million miles away. While observing the approaching comet, astronomer Michael Jäger from Jauerling, Austria took a photo of ATLAS. According to Jäger, his photo revealed a new feature of the comet.
"This is a 35-minute exposure using my 11-inch telescope," he said, according to SpaceWeather.com. "I tracked the comet as it moved among the stars. As a result, the background stars are streaked."
Comet Within The ATLAS Comet
Based on the photo, a bright object can be seen flying within ATLAS. According to the astronomer, it seems one of the comet's fragments has produced its own distinct tail while flying within ATLAS' greenish atmosphere.
In other words, a new comet has emerged within ATLAS. Although the new comet could be mistaken as a star, an animated video created by Jäger shows the object clearly moving within the comet.
Studying The Comet Up Close
The new comet within ATLAS can be studied further through a new mission currently being considered by NASA and the European Space Agency. Recently, scientists working with the Solar Orbiter revealed that the spacecraft's current trajectory will intersect the comet's path. During the intersection, the scientists noted that the spacecraft would pass through the comet's tail sometime in late May or early June. As noted by the scientists, Solar Orbiter's flyby would provide them with a rare opportunity to study the material composition of ATLAS.
"If Solar Orbiter instruments detect material from Comet ATLAS, it will be the first predicted serendipitous comet tail crossing by an active spacecraft carrying appropriate instrumentation for the detection of cometary material," the researchers wrote in their study published in the journal Research Notes of the American Astronomical Society.