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Catch Comet R4 ATLAS as it Nears Earth

21 Apr 2021, 13:45 UTC
Catch Comet R4 ATLAS as it Nears Earth
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The coming weeks are a great time to catch comet C/2020 R4 ATLAS… while you can.

Looking to do some springtime astronomy? With temperatures warming up in the northern hemisphere in April through May, galaxy season is upon us. At dusk, the area in the Bowl of Virgo asterism rising in the east is rife with clusters of galaxies that spill over into the adjacent constellations of Coma Berenices and Boötes…

But this May, keep an eye out for a fuzzball interloper that is not a galaxy: Comet C/2020 R4 ATLAS.

Discovered on the night of September 12th, 2020 by the prolific automated Asteroid Terrestrial Impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) sky survey based in Haleakala (ALTAS-HKO) and Mauna Loa (ATLAS-MLO) Hawaii, R4 ATLAS has proven to be an over-achiever. In fact, it was never initially predicted to top +10th magnitude… until a surprise outburst in late December 2020 shot it up 100-fold in brightness, from +18th to +13th magnitude. As of writing this, it sits at about +8th magnitude ‘with a bullet,’ and may top out +7th magnitude this week. Clearly, this is a dynamic comet with lots going on… and one more well-placed outburst this week could nudge it ...

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