MYSTERY WIRE — In April, sky-watchers were hoping to see a beautiful display from Comet ATLAS passing close to Earth. It never happened. Mainly due to the fact the comet began crumbling into at least 30 pieces. But now, scientists have another chance to study it.
A partnership between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) will lead to using the spacecraft Solar Orbiter, designed to study the sun. Its instruments could also gather valuable information about Comet ATLAS’ tail.
“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 scientists wrote in a new paper exploring the opportunity and recently published on space.com.
Astronomers first spotted an icy lump officially dubbed C/2019 Y4 but now known as Comet ATLAS on Dec. 28, 2019, using an observatory in Hawaii called Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System. Over the next few months, the faint comet brightened extraordinarily rapidly, sparking hopes that the ice ball might put on a spectacle when it was closest to the sun, in late May.
The research is described in a paper published May 5 in the journal Research Notes of the American Astronomical Society.