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Comet Atlas, Set To Brighten The Sky As COVID-19 Peaks, May Be Fading Fast

Photo: Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash
Comet Atlas, Set To Brighten The Sky As COVID-19 Peaks, May Be Fading Fast

Trying to following the various projections of paths the coronavirus pandemic may take may seem as complicated as suddenly trying to become a NASA-worthy astrophysicist during your down time while sheltering at home.

And the universe being the mysterious wonder it is, it turns out tracking astronomy and COVID-19 may share a deeper connection than you knew before.

As of Sunday, April 5, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) predicts that 81,766 people will die of COVID-19 in the U.S. between now and August 4, 2020. This is a welcome decrease from the prediction of 93,531 deaths they'd estimated during the previous week, a sign, they say, that social distancing measures seem to be working to flatten the curve.

If this trend in coronavirus cases, deaths, and recoveries continues, the worst of COVID-19 is expected to rock the U.S. in mid-April, peaking on April 16, then tapering off throughout the month of May.

Somewhat mystically, the trajectory of this pandemic aligns with the path currently being traveled by Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS), more commonly known as Comet ATLAS,

Comet ATLAS was first discovered by astronomers using the ATLAS (Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System) in Hawaii on December 28, 2019.

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While it's not yet visible to the naked eye, and no one can say for sure it ever will be, astronomy enthusiasts have been able to spot it and capture some (literally) stellar images using medium-sized telescopes under dark skies.

Initial predictions showed the comet coming closest to the Earth on May 23 and closest to the sun on May 31.

Should it continue on this path, it might be bright enough to be visible to the unaided human eye on or around May 1, right as COVID-19 should be (pleasepleaseplease) fading into oblivion.

As folks on Reddit love to do, some quickly linked the discovery of Comet ATLAS to End Times theories.

One redditor shared a 7-year-old article titled "Sun-Grazing Comets As Triggers For Electromagnetic Armageddon" in the subreddit named r/conspiracytheories.

"Everything is intensifying rapidly," one user commented. "California is having earthquakes. Utah had one. Now there's a comet that is going to be as bright as the moon. Earlier this year we had the massive wildfires. Locust plague is sweeping Africa and the Middle East. Of course can't forget to mention the pandemic (which we don't know the true numbers/severity of), and war looming on the horizon.

"One of the big red flags for me is celebrities suddenly being diagnosed, politicians faking getting tested, and a couple hundred CEOs resigning just this year alone. They must know that something devastating is coming."

But just as we hope will be the case with the coronavirus pandemic, scientists observing the comet say it may be disintegrating and could disappear more quickly than previously expected.

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On April 6, astronomers Quanzhi Ye of the University of Maryland and Qicheng Zhang of Caltech submitted a report in The Astronomer's Telegram indicating Comet ATLAS is shifting in a way that is "consistent with a sudden decline or cessation of dust production, as would be expected from a major disruption of the [comet’s] nucleus."

In laymen's terms. this means the comet, which observers have been noticing is getting fainter rather than brighter after crossing Mars' orbit over the past several days, may not be with us much longer.

If you want to take a shot at seeing Comet ATLAS for yourself, it's recommended that, because of the fuzzy-nature of comets in general, you use averted vision, "a technique in which you look off to one side to expose the most sensitive part of your eye to better see much fainter objects."

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Deputy Editor Arianna Jeret, MA/MSW, is a former family law mediator and recognized expert on love, relationships and divorce whose work has been featured in Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, Yahoo, MSN, Fox News, Bustle, Parents and more. Find her on Twitter and Instagram for more.