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Science

Comets, Comets, Comets

comet Atlas in sky
Tom Westre
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Back in early March Comet Atlas was beginning to take center stage in the world of astronomy as a comet that might evolve into a bright naked eye comet rivaling the planet Venus seen in the west after sunset.   

Astronomers try to be careful when it comes to predicting the brightness of comets as they near the sun.  Sometimes those predications come true but often the comet fizzles out and disappoints.

This is what has happened to Comet Atlas. After the comet was discovered at the end of 2019 it began to quickly brighten   It is now falling apart into at least three pieces and losing its brightness.

As Comet Atlas broke apart on April 11, Comet SWAN was discovered by Amateur astronomer Michael Mattiazzo.  He noted it was quite bright in 15x70 binoculars. Comet SWAN takes 25 million years to orbit the Sun.  As of April 16 it was magnitude +7.8 easy to spot in binoculars.  SWAN will pass near earth May 27 at a distance of 40 million miles where it could reach naked eye visibility low in the west-northwest sky after sunset.

Will Comet SWAN be another disappointment like Comet ATLAS? Who knows.