As I write these words, Comet ATLAS, which a month ago looked like it might evolve into the first really bright naked-eye comet in a decade, is now falling apart. It has fragmented into several pieces, quickly dispersing and not leaving behind enough material to produce any kind of significant display.
Soon after this comet was discovered near the end of 2019, it brightened at an almost furious pace. That combined with the fact that it was traveling in the same orbit as the “Great Comet” of 1844 suggested that it might be a fragment of that famously spectacular comet, and that by the spring it might evolve into a beautiful celestial showpiece that could possibly excite the world as well as inject some new interest and exposure to the science of astronomy.
Sadly, those expectations will not be met.
Once again, the fickle, unpredictable nature of comets came into play as we here at Space.com couched our initial projections as to what might — or might not — happen concerning the future of Comet ATLAS.