It's suspected that about 5,000 years ago a comet swept within 23 million miles of the Sun, closer than the innermost planet Mercury. The comet might have been a spectacular sight to civilizations across Eurasia and North Africa at the end of the Stone Age.
However, this nameless space visitor is not recorded in any known historical account. So how do astronomers know that there was such an interplanetary intruder?
Enter comet ATLAS (C/2019 Y4), which first appeared near the beginning of 2020.
Comet ATLAS, first detected by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS), operated by the University of Hawaii, quickly met an untimely death in mid-2020 when it disintegrated into a cascade of small icy pieces.
In a new study using observations from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomer Quanzhi Ye of the University of Maryland in College Park, reports that ATLAS is a broken-off piece of that ancient visitor from 5,000 years ago. Why? Because ATLAS follows the same orbital "railroad track" as that of a comet seen in 1844. This means the two comets are probably siblings from a parent comet that broke apart many centuries earlier. The link between the two comets was first noted by amateur astronomer Maik Meyer.
Read more: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/20 ... m-the-past
Celestial visitors from the edge of the Solar System.
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