April 13, 2020: There’s no longer any doubt. Comet ATLAS (C/2019 Y4) is falling apart. Around the world, amateur astronomers are beginning to witness the breakup, even imaging individual fragments. Jose de Queiroz photographed 3 pieces on April 11th:
“I took the picture using the 90 cm telescope at Observatory Mirasteilas in Falera, Switzerland,” says de Queiroz. “This is a stacked 20×120 sec exposure.”
Confirming images from the Lulin One-meter Telescope in Taiwan have just been reported in an Astronomer’s Telegram. The observing team, led by Zhong-Yi Lin of Taiwan’s National Central University, estimates that the leading fragment is about 3400 km ahead of the trailing pair.
The breakup of Comet ATLAS coincides with a sharp decline in its brightness. The Comet Observation Database shows a drop of two full magnitudes (a factor of more than 6):
These trends suggest that the comet *might* completely dissolve before its close approach to the sun inside the orbit of Mercury at the end of May. “Follow-up observations of C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS), both imaging and spectroscopy, are highly recommended to investigate the cause of this cometary breakup event,” says Lin and colleagues.