Unveiling Comet C/2024 G3 (ATLAS): A Bright Celestial Wanderer To See In 2025

21st Jun 2024
Unveiling Comet C/2024 G3 (ATLAS): A Bright Celestial Wanderer To See In 2025

On 5th April 2024, astronomers using the robotic telescopes of the Earth’s Last Asteroid Impact Alert System (ATLAS) made an unusual discovery: comet C/2024 G3 (ATLAS) swept through space at less than a billion kilometres from the Sun.

It could be a great object for astronomical observers in the southern hemisphere. Its perihelion, the closest point to the Sun, will occur on 13th January 2025, when it will be only 14 million kilometres from our star.

A Mysterious Celestial Visitor

With a high degree of probability, the comet is non-periodic – coming from the distant Oort cloud will approach the Sun only once and then, if it survives, will go further into interstellar space.

The comet is making its first journey inside the solar system, which means it is filled with volatile materials that have never before been exposed to the heat of the Sun. This makes its behaviour somewhat unpredictable, and astronomers look forward to seeing what surprises it may hold.

What Size Is The Comet C/2024 G3?

The size of the comet’s nucleus and its maximum distance from the Sun are still unknown. It is currently quite dim as it moves inward from the outskirts of our solar system. The comet’s orbit indicates that it is, with a higher probability, a dynamically new stellar magnitude.

In May 2024, the comet was in the constellation Bird of Paradise, which is only visible in Earth’s Southern Hemisphere, 531 million kilometres from Earth.

The object is currently in the Triangulum Australe (Southern Triangle) constellation, visible mainly to observers in the Southern Hemisphere.

A Fiery Encounter

As the comet approaches perihelion, its luminosity may increase dramatically. If all goes well, chances are it could reach 0th stellar magnitude, which is as bright as the star Vega in our starry sky, and thus can be observed with the unaided eye.

The path of C/2024 G3 (ATLAS) in the sky
The path of C/2024 G3 (ATLAS) in the sky. Credit: Vito Technology, Inc.

In addition, the celestial visitor may even appear brighter due to the direct scattering effects it is expected to experience as comet 2023/A3. This phenomenon occurs when a comet’s dust particles scatter sunlight in a forward direction, potentially increasing its brightness.

As it approaches perihelion, comet G3 is approaching our star at a distance of just 0.1 times the distance from Earth to the Sun. Scientists observing this comet express concern that it may burn and disintegrate during this fiery encounter.

Who Gets a Chance To Witness Comet C/2024 G3?

This close encounter could turn the comet into an unusually bright object or, conversely, cause it to disintegrate. Astronomers suggest that residents of the Southern Hemisphere will have the best vantage point to observe this celestial wanderer.

After passing perihelion, it will move southeast into the evening sky. As it happened with previous comets, it may either run out of steam near perihelion or put on a dramatic show like C/2006 P1 (McNaught) or something in between.

Can The Comet Survive Its Perihelion?

Predicting how a comet will behave as it passes through the inner reaches of the solar system is difficult – and it’s not really about the orbit but how bright it will be. Many factors come into play, from the chemical composition of the object to the shape of the nucleus and its rotation period. As a rule, small comets don’t survive passing so close to the Sun.

The orbit of comet C/2024 G3 (ATLAS). Credit: Starwalk Space

How Bright Is The Comet C/2024 G3?

According to the most optimistic estimates, next January C/2024 G3 (ATLAS) may equal the brightness of the waxing Moon and be visible even in the daytime sky. But more cautious estimates suggest that the comet will be as bright as Sirius, which is also very promising and will make it easy to see with the naked eye.

Be that as it may, how close to reality these predictions will be, only time will show.

What Is ATLAS?

ATLAS (Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System) is a robotic astronomical survey and early warning system optimized to detect small near-Earth objects weeks or days before they collide with Earth. The system was developed by the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Hawaii and operated by the University of Hawaii. NASA funds it. ATLAS observations began in 2015.

Today, the system consists of four 0.5-meter telescopes at observatories in Hawaii, South Africa, and Chile.

While preparing for the grandiose celestial show, keep your telescopes ready and look into the sky. The rendezvous time with the comet C/2024 G3 is near, and its fiery trail is waiting for our curious gaze!

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