We're About to See the Closest Comet Flyby in Over Three Decades

Monday, 21 March 2016 - 1:19PM
Astronomy
Monday, 21 March 2016 - 1:19PM
We're About to See the Closest Comet Flyby in Over Three Decades
Two comets are about to zoom past Earth, and while only one of them will be visible to the naked eye, the other will mark the closest comet flyby since 1983. While asteroid flybys are relatively common, since they are generally closer to Earth, comet flybys are much more rare, and so it's an especially rare occurrence for two comets to fly by Earth within one day of each other. 

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"There are many more asteroids in near-Earth space than comets, which are significantly more rare," Michael Kelley, an astronomer at the University of Maryland, told The LA Times. "When a comet does come this close to Earth it is something to get excited about, and take advantage of to learn whatever we can."
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The larger and more distant comet, Comet 252P/LINEAR, is approximately 750 feet wide and will pass by today at 3.3 million miles. As a result of its brightness, it may be visible in the night sky. The smaller comet, P/2016 BA14, which was only discovered in January, is approximately half the size of the first comet and will pass by tomorrow at a mere 2.2 million miles. Although it will be too small to see with the naked eye, it will be the third-closest flyby ever recorded. 

These comets are puzzling to astronomers, as they are traveling in unusually similar orbits, and yet there is no obvious connection. Scientists are theorizing that the smaller comet may be a fragment of the larger, but it warrants further study. 

And since the internet is so quick to start making doomsday predictions, NASA went out of their way to reassure everyone that the comet is only relatively close, and that there's absolutely no chance of collision:

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"Comet P/2016 BA14 is not a threat," NASA's Paul Chodas said in a statement. "Instead, it is an excellent opportunity for scientific advancement on the study of comets."
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Science
Space
Astronomy

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