Astronomers suggest that about 5,000 years ago, one large comet could pass by the Sun, at a distance of about 37 million kilometers from it. This comet could represent a picturesque sight in the sky for the civilizations that occupied the territory of Eurasia and North Africa by the end of the Stone Age.
However, this unknown "guest from space" is not mentioned in any known historical source. How did astronomers find out about this "visit"?
In this, the scientists were helped by the comet ATLAS (C / 2019 Y4), which first appeared in the sky in early 2020.
Comet ATLAS, first detected by the University of Hawaii's Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS), quickly met its premature death in mid-2020 when it disintegrated into dozens of tiny ice fragments.
In a new study, astronomer Quanzhi Ye of the University of Maryland, USA, reports that ATLAS comet may have been a breakaway fragment of this ancient body that passed the Sun 5,000 years ago. Why? Since the comet ATLAS was moving along the same trajectory as the comet observed in 1844, this means that the two comets were likely fragments of the same parent body, which had disintegrated many centuries earlier. This connection between the two comets was first noticed by amateur astronomer Mike Mayer.
Despite the fact that comets often form entire families, if they are fragments of the same body, comet ATLAS seems unusual to Ye. In contrast to the hypothetical parent body, comet ATLAS dissociated further from the Sun, at a distance of about 160 million kilometers.
“If it broke away so far from the Sun, how did it endure the last approach with it, which took place about 5,000 years ago? This is a big question,”Ye said.
In addition, the work notes that the study of the motion of a set of fragments formed as a result of the dissociation of the ATLAS comet will help to better understand the features of the structure and origin of both the comet itself and its hypothetical parent body.
The research is published in the Astronomical Journal.