Mar 31, 2020 - Science

Astronomer captures a brightening comet approaching the Sun

Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS)
Gif: Matthijs Burgmeijer

A video taken by amateur astronomer Matthijs Burgmeijer shows a comet with the potential to become visible to the naked eye in just a few weeks streaking brightly across a background of stars.

Why it matters: The comet — named Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) — was discovered in December and since then has brightened beautifully as it started to fly closer to the Sun.

  • Comet ATLAS is expected to make its closest approach to the Sun in late May, potentially brightening to the point where observers in the Northern Hemisphere can see it without a telescope or binoculars.
  • Southern Hemisphere skywatchers should be able to see the comet after it swings around the Sun and before it heads out of the inner solar system, Burgmeijer told Axios.

But, but, but: Understanding comet behavior isn't an exact science, and Comet ATLAS might break apart before it brightens enough to put on a truly spectacular show.

  • "We simply have to wait and see how it will develop over the coming weeks," Burgmeijer said. "Comets are notoriously unpredictable."

Go deeper: An interstellar comet revealed

Go deeper