Being a near-parabolic comet, comet Atlas doesn’t have enough velocity to escape the Solar System. It will never return as its trajectory is too strong to let it escape its fate. Barely found on December 28, 2019, in Hawaii, Atlas is a fascinating mystery for astronomers that are currently acting more like astrologists trying to guess Atlas’ fate.
Will it “simply crumble away in the coming weeks” or will it “brighten up tremendously”? Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC considers both possibilities.
What seems to be certain is that Atlas is on its way to meet the Sun. If it will reach the final destination is ambiguous.
For now, it looks like it is preparing to mee the Sun with a proper appearance. Its atmosphere has grown so much that it measures half of the Sun’s: 720,000 kilometers (447,387 miles) wide, while the Sun’s diameter is about 1.39 million kilometers (864,000 miles).
How to spot Comet Atlas in the sky
It is way beyond what scientists estimated it would be by this time. Since December 2019, Atlas has brightened nearly 398,000 times.
Comet Atlas is currently passing the orbit of Mars and approaching Earth on its way to Venus. Until April 2020, the comet will still be located in the constellation Ursa Major. In April and May, it will cross the Perseus-Camelopardalis constellation, as it gets closer to Venus. By June sky observers will find it in the Orion constellation, and most likely close to Mercury.
By the time it gets to Mercury’s orbit, it will become truly spectacular, because “it has an unusually small perihelion distance inside of Mercury’s orbit, which bodes well for getting those frozen gases fizzing furiously,” Battams says.
Looking more and more like a crescent Moon, comet Atlas will be a comet to remember. That is if it will ever get there and not shred to pieces on the way.