Astronomers currently monitoring comet SWAN detected a bright outburst as it approaches the Sun and the Earth. Usually, a bright outburst is a sign of fragmentation in comets.
Comet SWAN, also known as C/2020 F8, was first detected by NASA and the European Space Agency's robotic spacecraft Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) on April 11. The comet was detected using the spacecraft's hydrogen-detecting instrument known as the Solar Wind ANistropies, or SWAN.
Spotting The Comet's Outburst
Currently, the comet is making its way towards the Sun and Earth. According to astronomers, the comet has become bright enough to be spotted by the human eye. Recently, sightings on the comet revealed that its brightness has significantly increased. Some astronomers even witnessed bright outbursts from the passing comet.
"Comet C/2020 F8 (Swan) brightened ever-so-slightly overnight, from magnitude 5.0 on the morning of May 1st, to magnitude 4.9 on the morning of May 2nd," astronomer Stephen James O'Meara stated. "At least it's brightening over the skies of Maun, Botswana."
Possible Cause Of Comet's Outburst
Like in other known comets, SWAN's increased brightness could mean that it's starting to break apart as it approaches the Sun. Explosions of gas and dust from the comet's surface as it gets heated up by sunlight may have triggered a powerful outburst. However, according to Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington, DC, SWAN's outburst may not necessarily mean that it's breaking apart.
"Outbursts do not necessarily imply fragmentation, and ground-based images are not yet showing evidence of a breakup," he said, according to SpaceWeatther.com. "This could just be a particularly feisty and volatile comet."
Comet SWAN's Previous Outburst
The recent outburst of comet SWAN could be related to its previous behaviour when it was first discovered. The SWAN instrument on the SOHO spacecraft was designed to detect traces of hydrogen in space.
The reason why it was able to spot the comet was because of its powerful hydrogen outbursts. These outbursts created a huge cosmic cloud around the comet, which contributed to its increased brightness. According to scientists, the comet's hydrogen outbursts were caused by water ice erupting from the comet's surface. These eruptions might have been triggered by the heat from the Sun.