Comet FIVE times the size of Jupiter is set to light up the night skies in April – and it could be brighter than Venus
- The comet was discovered on December 28, 2019 in the area of Ursa Major
- Its currently in Mars’ orbit but is on its way towards the Sun and getting brighter
- It was spotted by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS)
- If it doesn’t break up it will reach its closest point to the Sun by the end of May
Atlas, a massive comet five times the size of Jupiter and about half the size of the Sun, will appear brighter than Venus from Earth by the end of April.
The exact size of the rocky icy core of the strange comet isn’t known but is likely only a few miles across – but it has a much larger atmosphere.
It’s currently close to Mars’ orbit but is increasing in speed as it makes its way towards the Sun and will make its closest approach to Earth in April.
When it gets towards the inner solar system it will become one of the brightest objects in the night sky and potentially the ‘comet of a generation’.
This stunning image of comet C/2019 Y4 ATLAS was taken by Michael Jäger on March 18, 2020 and shows its bright green hue. The exact size of the rocky icy core of the strange comet isn’t known but is likely only a few miles across – but it has a much larger atmosphere
Since it was first discovered in December the gaseous envelope surrounding the comet has ballooned in diameter to a staggering 447,387 miles.
In contrast the Sun has a diameter of 865,370 miles, Jupiter’s diameter is 86,881 miles and the Earth is just 7,917 miles.
It poses no danger to Earth as even at its closest point it will be more than 72 million miles away from our planet but will be very bright.
Atlas has a tail about the same size as its atmosphere, according to Michael Jager from Austria – who captured images of the object.
According to a report by SpaceWeatherArchive it isn’t unusual for a comet to grow so large as they ‘spew prodigious amounts of gas and dust into space’.
‘Comet 17P/Holmes partially exploded and, for a while, had an atmosphere even larger than the sun,’ according to the astronomy website.
The green Atlas comet can be seen in the top left of this image captured from a remotely operated observatory in New Mexico on March 18. At lower right are M81 and M82, well-known as large, gravitationally interacting galaxies
‘The Great Comet of 1811 also had a sun-sized coma. Whether Comet ATLAS will eventually rival those behemoths of the past remains to be seen.’
It was discovered by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert system (ATLAS) in Hawaii and takes its name from the initials of the system.
The last bright comet visible without a telescope in the northern hemisphere was Hale-Bopp in 1997 – making this a ‘rare event’ for astronomers.
When it was discovered on December 28, 2019 it was faint and required a telescope, but as it comes closer it is getting brighter and can now be seen with binoculars.
Its glow will be amplified by the Sun the closer it gets and is already brighter than astronomers expected it to be at this point.
‘It’s definitely a promising comet,’ Daniel Brown, an astronomy expert at Nottingham Trent University, told The Times.
‘It’s pushing towards a level that by the end of April could look really, really stunning.’
Atlas is currently the largest ‘green object’ in the Solar System and its colour comes from diatomic carbon – a molecule commonly found in comets.
It emits a beautiful green glow when in gas form in the near-vacuum of space.
It has seen a 4,000-fold increase in brightness since it was first discovered and could be visible to the naked eye by the end of April.
When it was originally spotted, the comet was in Ursa Major and appeared 398,000 times dimmer than stars that visible to the naked eye from Earth.
It’s currently shining like an 8th magnitude star – that is invisible to the naked eye but easily spotted by garden telescopes.
It is getting brighter rapidly as it approaches the Sun, astronomers say.
‘Right now the comet is releasing huge amounts of its frozen volatiles (gases),’ says Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC.
‘That’s why it’s brightening so fast,’ he added.
“As they get closer to the sun they gas off this material and we get this amazing display, Brown told the Times.
‘It’s already at a level of brightness that you can see through binoculars — this beautiful greenish halo around it and a bit of development of the tail.’
To survive long enough for it to be visible as a bright light in the sky it would need to be able to hold on to its ice.
To do this it would have to have a large nucleus with a store of frozen gas – something astronomers can’t confirm at the moment.
If it doesn’t have a large nucleus it will likely ‘run out of gas’ leading to it crumbling and fading as it approaches the Sun, according to SpaceWeatherArchive.
Comet Hale bopp in the night sky was the large, bright comet visible to the naked eye in the northern hemisphere
Battams is not optimistic it will survive, he said it will likely break up before it reaches the brightest point from Earth.
‘My personal intuition is that Comet ATLAS is over-achieving, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it start to fade rapidly and possibly even disintegrate before reaching the sun,’ he says.
There is some speculation this could be related to the Great Comet of 1844 as it follows a similar trajectory and orbit.
Its trajectory would require a 6,000 year orbit around the Sun that would take it beyond the outer edges of the solar system – about 57 billion miles from the Sun.
Astronomers predict Atlas and the Great Comet both broke off from a much larger comet born in the early days of the solar system.
If it does last until it gets near the Sun it may be a one time shot as it could be expelled from the solar system completely after slingshotting around the Sun.
In the meantime, when it gets dark it will be visible halfway up in the north-northwest sky and potentially visible with the naked eye from April.
‘It’s going to be fun the next few weeks watching Comet ATLAS develop (and provide a nice distraction from the current state of the world), Carl Hergenrother, a comet observer based in Arizona, wrote. ‘Here’s to good health and clear skies!’
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF SPACE ROCKS?
An asteroid is a large chunk of rock left over from collisions or the early solar system. Most are located between Mars and Jupiter in the Main Belt.
A comet is a rock covered in ice, methane and other compounds. Their orbits take them much further out of the solar system.
A meteor is what astronomers call a flash of light in the atmosphere when debris burns up.
This debris itself is known as a meteoroid. Most are so small they are vapourised in the atmosphere.
If any of this meteoroid makes it to Earth, it is called a meteorite.
Meteors, meteoroids and meteorites normally originate from asteroids and comets.
For example, if Earth passes through the tail of a comet, much of the debris burns up in the atmosphere, forming a meteor shower.
Fastest-growing black hole in the universe eats the equivalent of one sun per day – ZME Science
Astronomers have come across a monstrously large black hole with a gargantuan appetite. Each passing day, the insatiable void known as J2157 consumes gas and dust equivalent in mass to the sun, making it the fastest-growing black hole in the universe.
The sheer scale of J2157 is almost unfathomable, but we can try pinning some numbers on it nevertheless.
According to Christopher Onken, an astronomer at the Australian National University who was part of the team that originally discovered the object in 2019, J2167 is 8,000 times more massive than the supermassive black hole found at the heart of the Milky Way. That’s equivalent to 34 billion times the mass of the Sun.
In order for Sagittarius A*, the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole, to reach a similar size, it would have had to gobble two-thirds of all the stars in the galaxy.
For their new study, astronomers turned to ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile to get a more accurate assessment of the black hole‘s mass. The researchers already knew they were dealing with a black hole of epic proportions, but the final results surprised everyone.
“We knew we were onto a very massive black hole when we realized its fast growth rate,” said team member Dr. Fuyan Bian, a staff astronomer at ESO.
“How much black holes can swallow depends on how much mass they already have. So, for this one to be devouring matter at such a high rate, we thought it could become a new record holder. And now we know.”
Although black holes can’t be imaged directly because they don’t let light escape, J2157 is actually classed as a quasar, or “quasi-stellar radio source” — extremely bright objects powered by black holes at least a billion times as massive as our sun.
The bright signal of the quasar is formed by particles of dust and gas accreting around the edge of the supermassive black hole that are accelerated away at almost the speed of light. Practically, the black hole acts like an extremely powerful natural particle accelerator.
Luckily for us, the black hole is located many billions of light-years away. But this also means that astronomers are measuring J2157’s gravitational influence as it appeared in the distant past when the universe was still very young.
“We’re seeing it at a time when the universe was only 1.2 billion years old, less than 10 percent of its current age,” Dr Onken said.
“It’s the biggest black hole that’s been weighed in this early period of the Universe.”
Since then, J2157 likely grew even bigger, perhaps merging with several other black holes across the eons.
“With such an enormous black hole, we’re also excited to see what we can learn about the galaxy in which it’s growing,” Dr Onken said.
“Is this galaxy one of the behemoths of the early Universe, or did the black hole just swallow up an extraordinary amount of its surroundings? We’ll have to keep digging to figure that out.”
The findings appeared in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
P.E.I. fishermen surrounded by 'thousands' of jellyfish – CBC.ca
Just outside the Tryon River on Prince Edward Island, Brian Campbell’s boat motor began to stall as it became surrounded by lion’s mane jellyfish.
“I’ve never seen that many before,” said Campbell. “They would get caught up in that propeller. There’s quite a few of them — I want to say thousands and thousands.”
Lion’s mane jellyfish can grow to two metres in diameter with tentacles as long as 30 metres, roughly the same length as a blue whale.
What’s more? They sting.
High concentration of lion’s mane
“Wouldn’t want to be swimming there that day, that’s for sure,” said Campbell, who has been a fisherman for 42 years.
“It’s all right if you got one or two that sting you. But at that point right there, I think you could probably do some harm … if you get 30 or 40 on you.”
Last Tuesday, Campbell posted on Facebook warning people not to swim in the area. He later added a video of the encounter.
Oceanographer Nick Record says the species is common throughout Atlantic Canada and the Gulf of Maine, but this is the first he’s heard of such a large group.
“I’m pretty sure that’s the highest concentration of lion’s mane jellyfish that anyone has reported to me,” said Record, a senior research scientist at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, a non-profit research institution in Maine.
Record said he has noticed a new phenomenon of gigantic lion’s mane jellyfish washing up onshore.
“They’re usually about the size of a dinner plate or smaller,” he said. “The last 18 months or so there’s been a handful, maybe five to 10 instances, where they were like [one and a half to two metres] across — so just giants.”
Record has been using citizen reports to track the creatures for about a decade. He said it’s hard to know whether or not jellyfish are increasing based on the reports, because while more reported sightings could mean more jellyfish, it could also just mean more people are out on the water.
That being said, there are several factors that could impact the population including weather, currents and the food chain.
“Partly it’s the biology. Jellyfish can reproduce really quickly when conditions are good,” said Record. “Partly it’s the ocean physics.”
‘I couldn’t believe how many there was’
“When I first saw it, I thought maybe somebody hit a seal up there just a little ways away,” said Chad Gallant, a lobster fisherman in North Rustico, P.E.I.
“There was a bunch of pink in the water. I thought it might’ve been blood.”
It wasn’t blood, it was jellyfish.
These were moon jellyfish, a different species from those Campbell saw.
“We just stopped there,” said Gallant. “I couldn’t believe how many there was.”
Gallant also posted a video on Facebook.
“It’s not too surprising to me to see a really high abundance of them,” said Record. ” But I’ve never seen a photo where they were that dense before.”
Moon jellyfish are seasonal and feed on zooplankton, according to Record. He said they “don’t generally sting,” but some people have sensitivities or allergic reactions to them.
“I thought it was kinda cool,” laughed Gallant. “It don’t bother me from going swimming again.”
Competing with fish for food
Record said there are both pros and cons to seeing groups this large.
“Some people see jellyfish as a total nuisance and large jellyfish aggregations as an unequivocally bad thing,” he said. “Other people see jellyfish as these amazing, beautiful animals and just want to take photos of them all day.”
They can impact the ecosystem in many ways, too. On one hand, they’re prey for sea turtles. On the other, they compete with fish for food.
There’s a scientific debate about whether jellyfish are increasing globally or not.— Nick Record, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
“People have tried to get fish stocks to rebound, but because the [jellyfish] are eating the same food that the fish would be eating, it makes it more difficult for fish stocks to come back,” said Record.
But unlike other living organisms, the jellyfish can survive and thrive in stressed environments with little oxygen and depleted ecosystems.
More data needed
“There’s a scientific debate about whether jellyfish are increasing globally or not,” said Record. “In order to answer the question about whether there’s a long-term trend, you need decades of data.
“We don’t really have that in Atlantic Canada.”
According to Record, this citizen reporting program is “really the only long-term survey for jellyfish in our part of the world.”
In order to track the sea animal, Record has to know where they are. And to know where they are, he needs people to report them. Record said people can send information regarding sightings to email@example.com.
There’s little doubt the videos taken around P.E.I. show a significant number of jellyfish. However, whether this means their population is climbing, the response isn’t so clear.
“We don’t know yet,” said Record. “It’ll take many years before we can answer that question.”
More from CBC P.E.I.
First ever glimpse of the core of a gas giant after one found orbiting distant star – Sky News
Scientists have discovered the surviving core of a gas giant orbiting a distant star, offering the first ever glimpse of the interior of these mysterious planets.
The core is about the same size as Neptune, or around four times larger than Earth, although it isn’t clear what happened to the planet’s gaseous atmosphere.
According to researchers from the University of Warwick’s department of physics, the atmosphere could have been stripped away or it may have failed to form early on in the planet’s life.
The planet core was found in a survey of stars by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and offers a unique opportunity to learn about the composition of gas giants.
Planets such as Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune are believed to have a rocky core deep beneath the bulk of their mass which is made up of gases.
Although the new core, named TOI 849 b, is around the same size as Neptune, it is believed to have three times the mass, with the material making it being squashed much more densely.
Dr David Armstrong, lead author on the paper, said: “While this is an unusually massive planet, it’s a long way from the most massive we know.
“But it is the most massive we know for its size, and extremely dense for something the size of Neptune, which tells us this planet has a very unusual history,” he added.
“TOI 849 b is the most massive terrestrial planet – [a planet] that has an earth-like density – discovered.
“We would expect a planet this massive to have accreted large quantities of hydrogen and helium when it formed, growing into something similar to Jupiter. The fact that we don’t see those gases lets us know this is an exposed planetary core.”
Dr Armstrong said this was the first time scientists have discovered an intact exposed core of a gas giant orbiting around a star.
There are two theories as to why the planet’s core has been exposed.
The first is that it was once similar to Jupiter but lost its outer gas, potentially through tidal disruption – when it was ripped apart from orbiting too close to its star – or in a collision with another planet.
Alternatively, it might be a failed gas giant, which never formed an atmosphere – for instance if there was a gap in the disc of dust the planet formed from, or if the disc ran out of material.
Dr Armstrong added: “It’s a first, telling us that planets like this exist and can be found. We have the opportunity to look at the core of a planet in a way that we can’t do in our own solar system.
“There are still big open questions about the nature of Jupiter’s core, for example, so strange and unusual exoplanets like this give us a window into planet formation that we have no other way to explore.
“Although we don’t have any information on its chemical composition yet, we can follow it up with other telescopes.
“Because TOI 849 b is so close to the star, any remaining atmosphere around the planet has to be constantly replenished from the core. So if we can measure that atmosphere then we can get an insight into the composition of the core itself.”
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