April 14, 2020
The comet is breaking up! I will attempt to imbed this image and its source. Don’t be surprised if you see it more than once.
Before you write me to say, “Why didn’t you photograph the comet, Steve?” – this image is from a telescope with 8 times the light-gathering power of mine. Add to that, the fact that they took 120 second exposures…twenty of them. To do that they had to track the comet as it moved through the background stars that make the streaks you see. Their telescope is guided by sophisticated computerized servos, while my ‘scope is on a mount made from a plywood box and is guided by “pushing with your hand”. Then they stacked those 20 photos together to make this image. These are professional Astronomers in a Swiss observatory while I am just a guy in a driveway in Houston.
The pieces are estimated to be spread out over more than two thousand miles. This is not unprecedented and if you want to learn more try looking at this paper: Split Comets H. Boehnhardt Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie Heidelberg
I warn you that this is what Literature students call “a bear”! But my preliminary read tells me that the comet fragmentation could pre-sage a disappearance or it may be associated with sudden eruptions of activity that result in a brightening. A long-winded way of saying “Anything could happen”, this is. 😉
There are many reasons a comet might break up but the main two in this case (in my humble opinion) are probably thermal stress and gaseous eruptions of sub-surface ice bodies.
Update: A recently discovered comet in the Southern sky has undergone an “outburst” and is already as bright as Y4. It is not yet in the databases, so no cool diagrams, yet. Details in the next post.