UPDATE TO PREVIOUS STORY BELOW
Comet Atlas’ promising light curve has taken a dip and the nucleus has appeared to elongate indicating the possible disintegration of the comet on its approach. This means it’s brightness will not be as spectacular as predicted and it’s tail may now begin to recede. Such is the case with comets .. like pandemics, they can be hard to predict.
Read the ATEL update here.
The Great Comet on 1844 was seen in many places across the world but prominently here in Australia. “Ludwig Leichhardt saw Comet Wilmot in the sky on 29 December 1844 while walking along the banks of a creek in central Queensland (Lang, 1847:315), prompting him to name the site Comet Creek. The town of Comet, Queensland (originally Cometville) takes its name from this creek (now called Comet River, Edwards, 1994).” (Hamcher & Norris)
That comet is a long period comet, which means we won’t see it again for a long time. Try 5,500 years.
But a funny thing happened in late 2019 when C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) was discovered. It’s calculated orbit appears to be the same as Comet Wilmot that Leichhardt saw back in 1844. This suggests both comets may both be fragments of a single, larger comet that broke up some time in the past. The new Comet currently flying towards us for a close approach in late May is already in outburst as it comes for a close swing around the Sun.
Like most comets it’s difficult to predict whether this will become a bright, naked-eye comet like the one that was seen with no equipment from the banks of Comet River so long ago. But astronomers have a good feeling about it and it may peak to about 4-6 before breaking up as it melts around perihelion. With any luck, we’ll get to see a tail!
Direct comparison of March 1 and 14 images of Comet C/2019 Y4. I’ve overlaid images from both dates, same scope, same location, same exposure. The brightness and size gain is obvious! pic.twitter.com/KqMo9lPJzv
— Terry Lovejoy (@TerryLovejoy66) March 15, 2020
In any case, if it is the same piece of flying space ice and rock that Comet, QLD is named after, this may be their only chance to see their namesake one more time.
It’s unlikely we’ll get a good view of it from the Southern Hemisphere unless it gets bright enough to see in the twilight at sunrise or sunset as you might be able to tell from this projected path.
For more information about finding this comet head to the Sky Live.