Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann has been caught breaking apart in to two pieces on its journey passing the Earth by astronomers at the Slooh observatory. On the night of February 12, 2017 using the company’s ground based telescopes in Chile, members observed the break up as it unfolded.
This is one of a string of break ups for the short period comet. Discovered on May 2, 1930 by Arnold Schwassmann and Arno Arthur Wachmann of the Hamburg observatory, Germany, this comet was first recorded to be breaking apart in 1995 when four large components were seen. In May, 2006, a further disintegration was observed during its perihelion passage of the Sun with no less than a dozen fragments being counted. As of 2016, the comet was known to be split in to 66 components. This breakup is caused by the extreme gravitational forces the comet has come under as it passes Jupiter and the Sun in its 5 1/3 year orbit.
73P will once again endure extreme forces during perihelion passage on March 16 this year and may suffer further disintegration.