In December 2019 astronomers at ATLAS ( Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System ) in Hawaii discovered Comet C/2019Y4, flagging it as one to watch come May 2020. Almost immediately C/2019Y4 became known as comet ATLAS.  At first astronomers predicted May 31, 2020 as day to watch ATLAS pass within the orbit of Mercury and the Sun at 0.25 AU distance, culminating in spectacular brightness as dissolving heat set ATLAS ablaze.

This week astronomers watched in amazement as magnitude increased 4,000 fold from +17 in early February to +8 by mid-March, stunned by runaway magnitude several months ahead of perihelion (closest orbital approach to the Sun ).  Magnitude is a measure of brightness observed from Earth, the lower the magnitude, the brighter the cosmic object. For perspective, faintest objects visible from Earth with binoculars have a magnitude of +9.5. Venus and Mars at their brightest, magnitude -4.4 and -3.0 respectively.  More magnitude linked below –

“Comet ATLAS continues to brighten much faster than expected,” says Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC. “Some predictions for its peak brightness now border on the absurd.”

According to Dr. Tony Phillips at if ATLAS magnitude continues to bloom at this pace, by May it could range between +1 to -5, possibly brighter than Venus and visible to the naked eye in daylight.


Comet ATLAS (C/2019 Y4) photographed on March 6, 2020, by Austrian astrophotographer Michael Jäger. The comet’s diffuse green atmosphere is about twice as wide as the planet Jupiter.



Ridiculously Difficult

Difficult tasks are daunting – ridiculously difficult is a proposition best left to imagination. Ridiculous is defined as unreasonably absurd or silly notions deserving ridicule – a preposterous suggestion easily dismissed as ludicrous. Fortunately mankind came with an infinite capacity to imagine ridiculously difficult possibilities.

On November 12, the European Space Agency Rosetta Mission will attempt “ridiculously difficult”- how hard could it be to land a probe on the surface of a miniscule chunk of cosmic debris traveling 40 times faster than speeding bullets?

Difficult was born 10 years ago when the ESA imagined ridiculous and launched Rosetta. A robotic probe with ridiculously difficult expectations – meander through the cosmos for 10 years, alternately slingshotting of planetary gravitational pulls, “sleeping”, waking up to take pictures, and finally slowing itself down to mirror the orbit and speed of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. – a infinitesimally minute cosmic speck only a few miles wide.  That in itself was difficult – ridiculous is the morning of Nov. 12 when Rosetta will deploy Philae, a probe expected to land on the surface of  67P at a spot dubbed Agilkia.

Ridiculously difficult might well define humanity. Where or what would we be without the tenacity and vision of absurdly silly dreamers. On November 12, link to the live feed below – witness the possibilities of pursuing ridiculously difficult.

Pictured below – Philae’s primary landing site, mosaic – courtesy ESA

Philae’s primary landing site – mosaic. Image credit: ESA

Free Camelopardalids Meteor Cam

My last meteor watch post sucked because the web cam I linked to only lets you watch for a minute before asking for $29.95. Hoping to rectify the situation in time – a link to Marshall Space Flight Center…

209P/LINEAR May 21, 2014 by Bareket Obs

209P/LINEAR – May 21, 2014 by Bareket Observatory, Israel

It’s Perseid Time

Every August, Earth encounters space junk from the Swift-Tuttle Comet. The result is the Perseid meteor shower. It’s just getting started with about 10 meteors an hour. By August 12 – 13 when it reaches it’s peak, find a dark sky away from city lights to witness up to 100 meteors an hour. The best time to watch is after midnight. Scientists have dubbed this meteor shower the Perseids because the meteors streak out and away from the constellation Perseus.

This link is to National Geographic, and the photo is courtesy their site.