After 250 Years, Twin Comets Fly Closest To Earth

After 250 Years, Twin Comets Fly Closest To Earth
Comet Garradd Meets M71 Ravenshoe Group CC BY 2.0

Twin comets, having similar orbits, will fly by the Earth’s surface beginning March 21.


The first of these is a shade of green, and will pass by the Earth’s surface on Monday. Meanwhile, the second one will be the closest to fly by Earth in nearly 250 years.

“While both comets will safely fly past at relatively close distances, anyone hoping to see them will need powerful, professional-grade telescopes, due to their relatively small size,” NASA states.

The first of these comets, which is also the bigger among the two, will be visible on Monday with the naked eye in the Southern Hemisphere. In the United States, enthusiasts will require binoculars to witness the event. The comet flyby will be investigated by the Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Infrared Telescope facility, which will also provide stargazers a close-up of the celestial occurrence.

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“This is one for the record books,” Michael Kelley, of the University of Maryland, says, as reported by USA Today. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for professionals to learn more about comets, and if you have a chance to try to find them … it’s a fantastic chance to see part of history as it happens.” Kelley added that he has never seen two comets coming as close to the surface of the Earth.

According to Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center of NEO Studies, “March 22 will be the closest comet P/2016 BA14 gets to us for at least the next 150 years. Comet P/2016 BA14 is not a threat. Instead, it is an excellent opportunity for scientific advancement on the study of comets.” reports that the first comet, 252P/LINEAR, will fly as close as 3.3 million miles to Earth on March 21. On the other hand, the second one, P/2016 BA14, will fly closer to the earth, around 2.2 million miles, the following day.

“Comet P/2016 BA14 is possibly a fragment of 252P/LINEAR. The two could be related because their orbits are so remarkably similar,” Chodas said. “We know comets are relatively fragile things, as in 1993 when comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was discovered and its pieces linked to a flyby of Jupiter.  Perhaps during a previous pass through the inner-solar system, or during a distant flyby of Jupiter, a chunk that we now know of as BA14 might have broken off of 252P,” he added.

Bob King, amateur astronomer, said stargazers looking at 252P through a telescope will be able to witness the movement of the comet. “You feel a little, ‘Whoa, the solar system is closer than I thought.’… It really is a thrill,” he said.

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