An update on Comet ATLAS…it is breaking apart

Guest post by Paul Dorian

This photograph was taken in Switzerland a few days and it shows three fragments of Comet ATLAS confirming what other amateur astronomers have witnessed…the breaking apart of this once-promising comet. Photo courtesy Jose de Queiroz,


There was a chance that Comet ATLAS was going to put on a dazzling show during the month of May, but as has been the experience with many comets in recent history, those hopes vanished as we approached event time.  In fact, there is no longer any doubt that Comet ATLAS (officially named C/2019 Y4) is falling apart.

The breakup of Comet ATLAS coincides with a sharp decline in its brightness. The Comet Observation Database shows a drop of two full magnitudes (a factor of more than 6). Plot courtesy


Numerous amateur astronomers are actually witnessing the breakup of Comet ATLAS and providing images of individual fragments.  One such photograph from Switzerland on April 11 (above) shows three pieces of the once-promising comet. The breakup of the comet coincides with a sharp decline in its brightness in recent days as there has been a drop of two full magnitudes as reported by The trend is not good and suggests the comet could actually completely fall apart before its close approach to the sun at the end of May. 

Move over Comet Kohoutek (1974)…you have some company.

Meteorologist Paul Dorian
Perspecta, Inc.

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46 thoughts on “An update on Comet ATLAS…it is breaking apart

  1. Sounds like the episode from Star Treck : Deep Space Nine – Destiny – where the comet split into three. Now where is that wormhole to the gamma quadrant 🙂

  2. Is it possible the break-up could end up with it becoming brighter? There must be lots more surface area exposed to sunlight now, and those surfaces should be of “fresher”, icier material. Perhaps that’s not enough to compensate for dispersal.

    • PJF, wrote, “There must be lots more surface area exposed to sunlight now, and those surfaces should be of “fresher”, icier material.”

      Consensus astronomy claims comets are “icy snowballs”, but numerous observations have contradicted the “icy snowball” or “dirty snowball” hypothesis.

      Observations of comets from scientific satellites show a rocky and dry surface with little evidence of water.

      Every so often an asteroid is observed to have a small “tail” pointed away from the sun, not tailing in the opposite direction from the asteroid’s direction of travel.

      There are other observations as well.

      Rather than an “icy snowball” or “dirty snowball” scientific observations & measurements are building up a body of evidence which suggests comets are rocky bodies more similar to asteroids.

      The hypothesis is that comets are rocky bodies, not “icy snowballs” or “dirty snowballs”.

      What is the difference between asteroids and comets according to the above hypothesis: comets have a highly elliptical orbit versus the more round orbit of asteroids. The comet tail is not a result of sublimation of ice into vapor, but rather is the result of an increased electrical stress as the comet moves closer to the sun with an increase in strength of an electric field causing matter from the comet to be electrically removed from the surface of the comet.

      This hypothesis suggests the sun has an electric field which weakens the farther away from the Sun.

      One more example of consensus astronomy being fixated on an idea and maintaining that belief in the face of increasing evidence to the contrary.

      The so-called “dirty snowball” hypothesis was developed in detail around 1950 based on similar even earlier ideas. All this was before any satellite data was possible.

      This is an example, repeated many times, where an idea was thought up before detailed observations & measurements were possible, and even though subsequent observations & measurements using advanced technology detection devices contradict said hypothesis, proponents fail to admit failure of their idea and continue “forcing a square peg in a round hole”.

      There is a crisis in astronomy.

        • Aeronomer,

          Here you go. The key item in the link is the filamentary structure in the jets. This is consistent with an electrical force acting on the comet. Sublimation of ice to vapor would not have a fine, identifiable pattern to the off-gasses, rather they would be random.

          Fine Structure in Comet’s Jets

          From the link:

          “As such, the nucleus is deliberately overexposed in order to reveal faint jets and the collimated nature of the streams of gas”

          Collimated is another word for filamentary nature.

          There is more, but enough for now.

          • The comet is breaking up:


            Possibly because, as has been observed, comets, many times, have two lobes (like a dumb bell) where most of the “collimated” jets of dust & gas have been observed to remove matter from the comet.

            Eventually, if that process continues the comet will break in two (at least).

            Sublimation of solids to gasses because of sunshine likely wouldn’t concentrate in the middle of the comet’s body, it would be more evenly distributed.

            But an electrical action on the comet possibly would be concentrated on the “equator” of the comet.

            Thus, the comet breaks apart.

      • The late, great Tom Van Flandern and his interesting website had much to say about comets and asteroids… and gravity.

  3. This event of Comet Atlas was predicted by Neil Sedaka in the song “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”. I should be sorry for this comment.

  4. Shame. I was hoping for a show downunder as we have had some really bright and clear nights even with urban light and moonlight impacting what can been seen. Is that due to a reduction in air pollution? Hummmm, probably.

  5. What sort of forces could cause this break up? The comet isn’t even on the solar system’s plane, so it can’t be subject to any sort of steep gravitational field gradient. Even a loosely bound object needs some sort of ‘kick’ to fall apart out there. Is it just the tail outgassing processes that kicked it apart? Talk about loosely bound!

    • CO2, COVID-19 or Trump, take your pick. I’ll go with “Who knows”, but gravity is most likely IMO!

    • Comets are mainly ice, this one could be of methane ice, freezing temperature minus 180 to minus 200C. Perhaps it has warmed sufficiently to start disintegrating, just guessing.

    • … it can’t be subject to any sort of steep gravitational field gradient.

      If that were the case it would shoot straight through rather than slingshotting around the sun.

      • Not sure what Bork meant by that; I was going to say that he meant it wasn’t subjected to strong tidal forces (which fall off as the cube of the distance, rather than the square). But he wrote “The comet isn’t even on the solar system’s plane, so it can’t be subject to any sort of steep gravitational field gradient.” The plane of the solar system has nothing to do with it, since the sun’s gravitational field is symmetrical in all directions. And coming in on the ecliptic would not make it significantly more likely that the comet would have a close encounter with a planet, if that’s what he’s referring to–the planets are just too far apart. So I’m mysterified what he meant by that.

        Of course you’re right that the gravitational field of the sun is what causes the comet’s orbit to be hyperbolic.

        • I can only imagine the Bork meant it hasn’t made any near passes to any moon. asteroid, etc.


          • Met a ‘gravity white hole’ (it is a place where everything is ripped apart and flung off away radially, i.e opposite to gravity black hole, where everything is pulled in towards the centre) /sarc

  6. It’s an ancient tail, yet a modern tale as well……..
    A comet falls for our sun but the sun just ignores it.
    Alas, the poor comet’s unrequited attraction causes it to just ‘fall to pieces’.
    Patsy Cline – I Fall To Pieces

  7. Comet ATLAS collided with a mountain of global warming bullsh!t that wafted into space.

    Seriously good people – no rational person could be this stupid for this long – the radical greens have a covert agenda. The US Democratic Party, with their Green New Deal lunacy, have now exposed that agenda – it is the destruction of our Western economic model and its replacement with the Marxist model that failed to abjectly in the 20th Century.

    ‘Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’
    George Santayana, Winston Churchill

  8. Yeah, I saw that a couple of days ago, that Atlas is breaking up. I realized that it was a lot to hope for to see three once-in-a-lifetime comets, Hale-Bopp, Hayakutake, and Atlas.

    Disappointment abounds, first SN Betelgeuse fizzled, then dumb mass hysteria pandemic opened Pandora’s Box, and now Atlas breaks up.

  9. Don’t forget, Mr. Huffman, that after all the bad things escaped from Pandora’s box , there was one thing left in it … HOPE.

    Anthea Collins

  10. OK, if they start self correcting source and decelerating it’s time to break the
    battleship fleet out of moth balls and que up Thunderstruck… Have Ed O’neil say… “Let’s Rock!”

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