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.
New species of crested dinosaur identified in Mexico
A team of palaeontologists in Mexico have identified a new species of dinosaur after finding its 72 million-year-old fossilized remains almost a decade ago, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said on Thursday.
The new species, named Tlatolophus galorum, was identified as a crested dinosaur after 80% of its skull was recovered, allowing experts to compare it to other dinosaurs of that type, INAH said.
The investigation, which also included specialists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, began in 2013 with the discovery of an articulated tail in the north-central Mexican state of Coahuila, where other discoveries have been made.
“Once we recovered the tail, we continued digging below where it was located. The surprise was that we began to find bones such as the femur, the scapula and other elements,” said Alejandro Ramírez, a scientist involved in the discovery.
Later, the scientists were able to collect, clean and analyze other bone fragments from the front part of the dinosaur’s body.
The palaeontologists had in their possession the crest of the dinosaur, which was 1.32 meters long, as well as other parts of the skull: lower and upper jaws, palate and even a part known as the neurocranium, where the brain was housed, INAH said.
The Mexican anthropology body also explained the meaning of the name – Tlatolophus galorum – for the new species of dinosaur.
Tlatolophus is a mixture of two words, putting together a term from the indigenous Mexican language of Nahuatl that means “word” with the Greek term meaning “crest”. Galorum refers to the people linked to the research, INAH said.
(Reporting by Abraham Gonzalez; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)
Alberta family searches for answers in teen's sudden death after COVID exposure, negative tests – CBC.ca
A southern Alberta mother and father are grappling with the sudden, unexplained death of their 17-year-old daughter, and with few answers, they’re left wondering if she could be the province’s youngest victim of COVID-19.
Sarah Strate — a healthy, active Grade 12 student at Magrath High School who loved singing, dancing and being outdoors — died on Monday, less than a week after being notified she’d been exposed to COVID-19.
While two tests came back negative, her parents say other signs point to the coronavirus, and they’re waiting for more answers.
“It was so fast. It’s all still such a shock,” said Sarah’s mother, Kristine Strate. “She never even coughed. She had a sore throat and her ears were sore for a while, and [she had] swollen neck glands.”
Kristine said Sarah developed mild symptoms shortly after her older sister — who later tested positive for COVID-19 — visited from Lethbridge, one of Alberta’s current hot spots for the virus.
The family went into isolation at their home in Magrath on Tuesday, April 20. They were swabbed the next day and the results were negative.
‘Everything went south, super-fast’
By Friday night, Sarah had developed fever and chills. On Saturday, she started vomiting and Kristine, a public health nurse, tried to keep her hydrated.
“She woke up feeling a bit more off on Monday morning,” Kristine said. “And everything went south, super-fast.”
Sarah had grown very weak and her parents decided to call 911 when she appeared to become delirious.
“She had her blanket on and I was talking to her and, in an instant, she was unresponsive,” said Kristine, who immediately started performing CPR on her daughter.
When paramedics arrived 20 minutes later, they were able to restore a heartbeat and rushed Sarah to hospital in Lethbridge, where she died.
“I thought there was hope once we got her heart rate back. I really did,” recalled Sarah’s father, Ron.
“He was praying for a miracle, and sometimes miracles don’t come,” said Kristine.
Searching for answers
At the hospital, the family was told Sarah’s lungs were severely infected and that she may have ended up with blood clots in both her heart and lungs, a condition that can be a complication of COVID-19.
But a second test at the hospital came back negative for COVID-19.
“There really is no other answer,” Ron said. “When a healthy 17-year-old girl, who was sitting up in her bed and was able to talk, and within 10 minutes is unconscious on our floor — there was no reason [for it].”
The province currently has no record of any Albertans under the age of 20 who have died of COVID-19.
According to the Strate family, the medical examiner is running additional blood and tissue tests, in an effort to uncover the cause of Sarah’s death.
‘Unusual but not impossible’
University of Alberta infectious disease specialist Dr. Lynora Saxinger, who was not involved in Sarah’s treatment, says it is conceivable that further testing could uncover evidence of a COVID-19 infection, despite two negative test results.
However, she hasn’t seen a similar case in Alberta.
“It would be unusual but not impossible because no test is perfect. We have had cases where an initial test is negative and then if you keep on thinking it’s COVID and you re-test, you then can find COVID,” she said.
According to Saxinger, the rate of false negatives is believed to be very low. But it can happen if there are problems with the testing or specimen collection.
She says people are more likely to test positive after symptoms develop.
“The best sensitivity of the test is around day four or five of having symptoms,” she said. “So you can miss things if you test very, very early. And with new development of symptoms, it’s always a good time to re-test because then the likelihood of getting a positive test is a little higher. But again, no test is perfect.”
Sarah deteriorated so quickly — dying five days after she first developed symptoms — she didn’t live long enough to make it to her follow-up COVID-19 test. Instead, it was done at the hospital.
‘An amazing kid’
The Strate family now faces an agonizing wait for answers — one that will likely take months — about what caused Sarah’s death.
But Ron, who teaches at the school where Sarah attended Grade 12, wants his daughter to be remembered for the life she lived, not her death.
Sarah was one of five children. Ron says she was strong, active and vibrant and had plans to become a massage therapist after graduating from high school.
She played several sports and loved to sing and dance as part of a show choir. She was a leader in the school’s suicide prevention group and would stand up for other students who were facing bullying.
“She’s one of the leaders in our Hope Squad … which goes out and helps kids to not be scared,” he father said.
“She’s an amazing kid.”
Sarah would often spend hours helping struggling classmates, and her parents hope her kindness is not forgotten.
“She’d done so many good things. Honestly, I’ve got so many messages from parents saying, ‘You have no idea how much your daughter helped our kid,'” said Ron.
“This 17-year-old girl probably lived more of a life in 17 years than most adults will live in their whole lives. She was so special. I love her so much.”
China launches key module of space station planned for 2022
BEIJING (Reuters) -China launched an unmanned module on Thursday containing what will become living quarters for three crew on a permanent space station that it plans to complete by the end of 2022, state media reported.
The module, named “Tianhe”, or “Harmony of the Heavens”, was launched on the Long March 5B, China’s largest carrier rocket, at 11:23 a.m. (0323 GMT) from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the southern island of Hainan.
Tianhe is one of three main components of what would be China’s first self-developed space station, rivalling the only other station in service – the International Space Station (ISS).
The ISS is backed by the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. China was barred from participating by the United States.
“(Tianhe) is an important pilot project in the building of a powerful nation in both technology and in space,” state media quoted President Xi Jinping as saying in a congratulatory speech.
Tianhe forms the main living quarters for three crew members in the Chinese space station, which will have a life span of at least 10 years.
The Tianhe launch was the first of 11 missions needed to complete the space station, which will orbit Earth at an altitude of 340 to 450 km (211-280 miles).
In the later missions, China will launch the two other core modules, four manned spacecraft and four cargo spacecraft.
Work on the space station programme began a decade ago with the launch of a space lab Tiangong-1 in 2011, and later, Tiangong-2 in 2016.
Both helped China test the programme’s space rendezvous and docking capabilities.
China aims to become a major space power by 2030. It has ramped up its space programme with visits to the moon, the launch of an uncrewed probe to Mars and the construction of its own space station.
In contrast, the fate of the ageing ISS – in orbit for more than two decades – remains uncertain.
The project is set to expire in 2024, barring funding from its partners. Russia said this month that it would quit the project from 2025.
Russia is deepening ties with China in space as tensions with Washington rise.
Moscow has slammed the U.S.-led Artemis moon exploration programme and instead chosen to join Beijing in setting up a lunar research outpost in the coming years.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Liangping Gao; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Simon Cameron-Moore and Lincoln Feast.)