The 4.3-meter Lowell Discovery Telescope (LDT) in Happy Jack has resumed science operations this week, after being closed since March 31 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lowell technical staff have been working on new operation plans to allow the teams to resume observing while ensuring the safety of everyone involved.
Last week, engineering and instrumentation staff made sure the telescope and its instruments were in proper working order, ready for four nights of on-sky recertification, allowing astronomers to use all modes of the telescope. Over the course of three nights, the team observed Comet ATLAS (C/2019 Y4), imaging the comet as it fragments. The comet was discovered late last year and was brightening rapidly before unexpectedly beginning to break up in late March, just after telescopes closed due to the virus. Details from the images suggest that fragments are continuing to fragment, moving quickly or changing in brightness rapidly.
The comet is now inaccessible to the LDT, but will be further observed by solar observatories in space.
Though Lowell Observatory is beginning to resume science operations, all public facilities remain closed and will likely not reopen for at least several weeks. The observatory will update this status through its website and social media channels.
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