Comet Atlas, an unprecedented spectacle

Comet, Atlas, Sky, Astronomy
Comet Atlas photographed on March 6, 2020 by Austrian astrophotographer Michael Jäger.

Comet Atlas was discovered on December 28, 2019 and at that time it was observed very weak, but it has been gaining light over the days. This is generating a great expectation among astronomers for this awesome event.

Atlas is on its way to becoming one of the brightest comets seen from planet Earth, comparable to Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. It should be noted that no such spectacle has been observed since that time, as successor comets have disappointed observers. Among those, the McNaught in 2007, the Lovejoy in 2011, and the PanSTARR in 2013 stand out, which was one of the most important but did not reach the expected brightness.

The Atlas agenda

According to astronomical forecasts, the comet is releasing large amount of frozen volatile gases, and that action is what is generating its rapid increase in brightness.

This new kite owes its name to the The telescope that discovered it, the Atlas, located in Hawaii and could reach its maximum splendor from Earth during the month of May. If the comet maintains its current behavior it could contemplate its wake for several weeks and with the naked eye from Earth.

But not only the luminosity will be a great spectacle in the terrestrial sky but also its possible persistence and its particular color. It will present a greenish color that will make it stand out from the rest of the sky.

Where to look?

Atlas presents a large queue that reaches 300 thousand kilometers, which represents more than twice the diameter of Jupiter. Right now It is located transiting the Ursa Major constellation and its movement is slow. And it is expected that in June I’m going through the Orion constellation.

As a curiosity, it is highlighted that the comet Atlas presents an orbit very similar to the famous “Great Comet” of 1843,a supercometa of which many engravings of the amazing astronomical event of that time have been found highlighting its great and spectacular tail.

This coincidence excites the experts even more, although the expectation is also on hold, as astronomers know the unpredictability of the behavior of comets. Its structure can collapse earlier than expected and not reach its maximum splendor.

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How to Observe Atlas, the Brilliant “Suicidal” Comet That Baffles Astronomers

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A Kite called Atlas is heading towards Sun on a suicidal path. However, it is good news for us, as it is foreseeably going to provide a great show that already can be seen with binoculars. Discovered last December, it has become much brighter than experts originally predicted and, if you can hold on without breaking up a bit more, could be seen in the sky as a spot as bright as Venus. And at a glance.

Soon after its discovery, Atlas began to grow more and more. The astronomers calculate what at the end of May, beginning of June, it could be its highest luminosity peak, since it will be at its minimum distance from the sun, 37.8 million kilometers from our star. And it will be recognizable not only by the intensity, but because its color will be greenish which will reveal the location of the comet.

The path of the comet in the sky with 7-day markers
The path of the comet in the sky with 7-day markers – Tomruen / CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

According to the researchers’ calculations, since February it has gone from magnitude +17 to magnitude +8 in March (at lower magnitudes, higher luminosity: For example, Venus has -4.4 and the Moon -12.6), which means that the brightness is 4,000 times greater. At this rate, which has caught astronomers by surprise, it could be visible to the naked eye in areas of low light pollution in just a couple of weeks.

It is normal for a comet to become brighter as it gets closer to the Sun: formed by a lump of ice, dust and rocks, its components are burned and the frozen volatiles are released. However, for this very reason his destiny is unpredictable. Maybe before reaching its maximum splendor its structure can not stand and I was completely smashed ahead of schedule. But, if Atlas resists, the researchers calculate that it could reach a magnitude from +1 to -5, even being able to be visible in daylight.

Where to look

Atlas has a queue of up to 300,000 kilometers, more than twice the diameter of Jupiter. It is a green tail that is produced as the carbon and cyanide gas inside the comet ionize as it gets closer to our host star.

You are now in the Ursa Major constellation. In April it will be visible midway through the northwest sky at night on the Perseus-Camelopardails constellation and in June in the Orion constellation in the northeast sky in the morning and potentially visible to the naked eye.

Besides, our location in the northern hemisphere gives us a privileged view of the event. In fact, if Atlas manages to hold on, the show could live up to the luminosity that the comet gives us Hale-Bopp in 1997. Interestingly, Atlas follows a path almost identical to the famous Great Comet of 1843, a supercometa of which there are engravings of the time highlighting its huge tail. In fact, some experts believe that Atlas could be a split from it.

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They find, for the first time, a human settlement razed by a comet

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Last year, a series of studies launched the idea that, 12,800 years ago, A great comet crashed into the Earth. After exploding in the atmosphere, its fragments dispersed and so far a dozen impact sites have already been found on several continents. The comet set on fire, in a single blow, about 10 percent of the planet’s surface, and was directly responsible for a drastic cooling of the climate, known as Younger Dryas, which caused the extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna worldwide.

Now, a team of researchers from the University of California at Santa Barbara has just discovered that one of those fragments fell directly on a human settlement in northern Syria. The place, today under water after the construction of the Taqba dam on the Euphrates River during the last decade of the seventies, is a well-known archeological site, that of Abu Hureya, which witnessed the time when ancient nomadic peoples they settled for the first time and began to cultivate the land. A large mound marks the exact place of that historic settlement, today covered by the waters of Lake Assad.

However, before the artificial lake was formed, archaeologists were able to carefully extract and describe a large amount of material, including parts of houses, food and tools. Evidence that allowed them to understand how the transition to agriculture took place, almost 12,800 years ago, one of the most important changes in the cultural history of our species, and also the beginning of profound environmental changes for our planet.

Hotter than fire

But Abu Hureya had another story to tell. In fact, among those early building materials, mixed with grain, grains and animal bones, researchers at the University of California have found cast glass, something that only forms at extraordinarily high temperatures, far superior to those that humans could get at that time and even higher than those that cause fire or volcanic eruptions.

“To put it in perspective,” explains geologist James Kennett, one of the authors of a study recently published in Nature– those temperatures so high they would completely melt a car in less than a minute. Such intensity could only have been the result of an extremely violent phenomenon of high energy and high speed, something like a cosmic impact. “

Based on the materials collected before the place was flooded, Kennett and his colleagues argue that one of the fragments of the comet that changed the world fell on Abu Hureya. In fact, it is the first place on the planet where the direct effects of an impact on a human settlement can be documented.

Abu Buraya is located in the easternmost part of what is known as the “Younger Dryass Border” (YDB), which covers about 30 different sites in America, Europe. Asia and Oceania. In all these places there is clear evidence of massive fires, and they all show a thin black carbon-rich layer that contains millions of nanodiamonds, very high concentrations of platinum and tiny metal spherules formed at very high temperatures.

The hypothesis of the impact of comet fragments has been gaining strength in recent years after multiple new discoveries, including a young impact crater under a glacier in Greenland or the discovery of molten glass in the Pilauco settlement in southern Chile.

Destroyed village

“The village of Abu Hureya was abruptly destroyed,” Kennett explains. Unlike the evidence of Pilauco, in effect, Abu Hureya shows direct signs of an improvised disaster. Kennett points out that a direct impact or an explosion in the air had to have occurred close enough to cover the entire settlement with molten glass.

The glass spherules were analyzed by the researchers to determine their geochemical composition, shape, structure, formation temperature, magnetic characteristics and presence of water. And the results show that they formed at temperatures above 2,200 degrees, along with other minerals such as chromium, iron, nickel, titanium or even platinum-rich cast iron.

“These critical materials are extremely rare at normal temperatures,” Kennett says, “but they are found everywhere during impact events.” According to the study, glass was formed “from the melting and almost instantaneous vaporization of local biomass, soils or flood deposits, followed by instant cooling.”

In addition, and because the materials found are consistent with those found in the layers of the Younger Dryass in other places around the world, the probability that it was a fragmented comet increases significantly. The impacts caused by individual comets or asteroids, in fact, tend to be very different.

“The unique impact of a large asteroid – concludes Kennett – would not have given rise to materials as disparate as those found in Abu Hureya. We propose that groups of large fragments of a comet are capable of causing thousands of bursts of air in a span of minutes across a hemisphere of the Earth. The YDB hypothesis has already proposed this mechanism to account for materials widely dispersed in more than 14,000 km of the Northern and Southern hemispheres. And our discoveries of Abu Hureya strongly support an impact event of a large fragmented kite“.

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May 4, 1949: the Torino team decimated in the plane crash

Every week with RetroNews, the BNF press site, a look back at a history of sport as told by the press at the time. This Saturday, the air disaster that decimated the team of the “Grande Torino”, May 4, 1949.

“The players of the best Italian football team are killed in a plane crash near Turin. The 31 passengers are charred ”, title in one Humanity May 5, 1949. The accident took place in the town of Superga, near Turin. “The plane from Portugal found itself in difficulty near the basilica which stands on a height”, informs the newspaper. The altimeter would then have frozen and the aircraft struck the bell tower of the basilica before crashing to the ground and catching fire.

Torino was the breeding ground for the Italian national team, double reigning world champion (1934, 1938) recalls fight. “Torino, Italian champion for the 1947-1948 season, after a long-standing undecided fight with Milan, was poised to win the title again. Among the victims is the Frenchman Emile Bongiorni, several times selected in the French team, who wore the colors of the Italian club since the start of the 1947-1948 season: he was a player whose ardor and passion had made the popularity. “ Another Frenchman, Roger Grava, died in the accident.

Dawn May 6 provides details of the cause of the accident: “The aircraft could not land on the Turin aerodrome made impassable by the recent rains. The plane then headed for Milan, but its disordered altimeter indicated a height of 2,000 meters when in reality it only flew at 600 meters. The poor visibility did not allow the pilot to see the dome of the Church of Superga which he struck at a speed of 400 km / h “ The newspaper focuses on the personality of the two French players who died in the drama. “Bongiorni,” Milo ” [son surnom, ndlr] hid in his great physical means an innate sense of football. Dangerous shooter, he had no equal to shake up a defense. […] The same size, the same power, Roger Grava also distinguished himself by his strong personality, both physical and moral. In Roubaix, his last club, with which he won the French championship in 1947, his services were unanimously appreciated. ”

“All of Italy is grieving after the tragic end of the Turin football team”, title Tonight May 6, 1949. The newspaper collected the testimony of a former “Milo” Bongiorni teammate at Racing, Ernest Vaast. “He was not just a teammate. He was a friend to me. We started racing together in 1942. And together we played for the national team. […] He had signed a two-year contract with Torino, but I know he was doing everything he could to join us again next season. For him, for his memory, we have one more reason to win Sunday against Lille. “ Far from this emotion, the newspaper delivers sordid details on the identification of bodies: “At the Turin morgue, it is difficult to recognize, in these horribly mutilated corpses, the magnificent athletes who, on the green lawns of the stadiums, made so many football enthusiasts vibrate. Relatives parade endlessly in front of the victims in order to identify them, here recognizing an alliance, there an old scar. ”

In its next day edition, Tonight publishes a full page of photos taken at Superga. They bear witness to the violence of the crash with a wing here, the propeller elsewhere, an engine in the outbuildings of the basilica and the grief of those close to the missing (Ossola’s mother, another player’s brother).


Tonight May 8 announced on the front page that the next day, during the final of the French Cup which will oppose them in Lille, “Racing players will mourn in Colombes their former teammate,” Milo “Bongiorni”. A photo shows two players: “After removing their equipment from the club’s headquarters on rue Ampère, Moreel and Vaast attach the black armband that was given to them by the managers on their jerseys.”

fight May 9 announces that the remains of Emile Bongiorni will be returned to Paris the same day. His former Racing teammates paid him homage by winning 5-2 in the Coupe de France final against Lille.

“Yesterday morning, the Parisian sportsmen went to the Parc des princes to pay a last tribute to Bongiorni and Grava whose bodies were exposed under the presidential tribune transformed into a burning chapel, recounts fight May 13. The Racing players taking turns mounted an honor guard around the body of their unfortunate comrade while players from the Italian US surrounded the remains of Grava. “

Seven months after the disaster, Paris Presse-l’Intransigeant from January 13, 1950 title “Superga is fading. Italy will go to Rio by plane. ” Understand: the national team will fly to Brazil to compete in the World Cup of which it is title holder. The calendar did not leave him any other option says the newspaper, “Highlighting the very short time between the end of the Italian championship (May 23) and the start of the World Cup in the first half of June.” The trauma of the Superga crash has not been erased: “However, it has already been established that the trip will be made in several groups.”

Continuation of the story. The Torino reserve team plays the last four games of the 1948-1949 championship and wins the title before Inter. It is the sixth and final coronation of the Grande Torino, as the best Italian team was nicknamed, national champion in 1928, 1943, 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1949, cup winner in 1936 and 1943 before losing its luster. The Torino is slowly waning, a situation all the more cruel as the big local rival, Juventus, is gaining momentum. The club experienced a revival allowing it to offer itself a new Scudetto in 1976. In the 90s, in the grip of big financial difficulties, it made the elevator between first and second divisions. In recent years, Torino FC has not shone or particularly dark, regularly finishing in the middle of the table. The Derby della Mole is a perfect illustration of the chasm that separates the two teams located on the banks of the Po since the Torino have won against the Old Lady only once since 1995. The saying goes, however, that the club of the inhabitants of Turin remains the Torino when Juventus is that of the rest of Italy.

Since the Superga drama, football has also been regularly marked by air disasters that decimate entire teams. In 1958, eight of the “Busby Babes”, the hypertalentent class of Manchester United trained by Matt Busby, die in the plane crash at Munich airport while returning from Belgrade where they qualified for the Champions Club Cup semi-finals. The Danish team, on July 16, 1960, those of the Bolivian club The Strongest, on September 26, 1969, of Tashkent, on August 11, 1979 also paid a heavy price. On December 8, 1987, 43 people including the 16 players from Alianza Lima, one of the most famous Peruvian clubs, perished after their plane crashed into the sea. In 1993, the entire team from Zambia disappeared in the accident of the military plane which took him to Senegal for the World Cup qualifiers. Last collective disaster to date, that which bereaved the Brazilian club Chapecoense, November 28, 2016: 19 players who were going to play the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana in Colombia die, three survive.

Gilles Dhers

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