A comet only just discovered in December of last year has already met its demise. It didn’t reach perihelion, or its closest approach to the Sun. It didn’t even pass inside Earth orbit. Yet Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) has now absolutely shattered.
In images taken on April 20 and April 23, the Hubble Space Telescope has captured at least 30 and 25 fragments of the comet respectively, travelling together in a cluster as they continue towards the inner Solar System.
“Their appearance changes substantially between the two days, so much so that it’s quite difficult to connect the dots,” said astronomer David Jewitt of the University of California, Los Angeles.
“I don’t know whether this is because the individual pieces are flashing on and off as they reflect sunlight, acting like twinkling lights on a Christmas tree, or because different fragments appear on different days.”