Carbon levels in Comet Atlas could help astronomers detect the age of other comets

Comet Atlas was a long-period comet, one that enters the Solar System once in 5,476 years.


A team of astronomers from Russia's Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU), South Korea and the USA have suggested that the amount of carbon or lack of it, can indicate the time comets have spent in the solar system.

The results of this collaborative study have been published in the scientific journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

According to a report in Eureka Alert, if the comet has lower levels of carbon, it means it has been in close proximity to the Sun for a longer period of time. 

The comet Atlas as seen on  on March 14th, 2020, Image credit: Wikipedia/Martin Gembec

The comet Atlas as seen on on March 14th, 2020, Image credit: Wikipedia/Martin Gembec

Study authors have said the proof is their study of the comet ATLAS that approached the Earth in May 2020 and disintegrated while displaying a major outbreak of the carbonaceous particles.

The report says that FEFU astrophysicists, Ekaterina Chornaya and Anton Kochergin joined an international team of researchers to analyse the composition of dust particles in the shell and tail of Comet Atlas. According to study authors, the levels of carbonaceous matter inside the comet were very high.

As per an article in Phys.org, Ekaterina Chornaya said that Atlas was expected to be the brightest comet of 2020 that would be visible from Earth. However, instead of observing the comet, everyone witnessed its disintegration.

According to Chornaya, luckily, they had started photometric and polarimetric studies before the process started and were able to compare the composition of the coma (comet shell and tail) before and after disintegration.

As per Chornaya, during disintegration, they noticed a dramatic growth of the positive polarisation branch, which is consistent with a high concentration of carbonaceous particles.

According to a report in Spaceref, Ekaterina said that Comet Atlas was a long-period comet, one that enters the Solar System once in 5,476 years. They approach the Sun only occasionally and, therefore, are rarely subject to heating.

The report adds that researchers are interested in these celestial bodies as they contain a lot of preserved primordial matter that start to evaporate under the influence of solar radiation and allow scientists to study it.

According to Chornaya, the polarimetric response of the particles from Comet Atlas matches with that of one of the brightest comets in the history of Earth - Comet Hale-Bopp.

Also Read: Rare Neowise comet will be visible in north-western India: Here is how and where you can watch it


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