Early next week, Earth will have one of the closet encounters ever recorded with a passing comet.
Two twin-like emerald comets will fly by the home planet at a safe distance, with the first occurring on Monday March 21, and the second passing by the following day.
Nasa astronomers say these two objects will come ‘remarkably close,’ with the latter comet approaching 2.2 million miles from Earth, the third closest flyby in recorded history.
The first comet to pass by is known as 252P/LINEAR.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) discovered the 750-foot-large object on April 7, 2000.
They say it will pass Earth at roughly 3.3 million miles away.
Another comet was discovered just a few months ago, spotted by researchers at the University of Hawaii’s PanSTARRS telecope on Haleakala, on the island of Maui, on January 22, 2016.
While it was initially thought to be an asteroid, the team at the University of Maryland and Lowell Observatory noticed its faint tail, using the Discovery Channel Telescope.
This classified the object a comet, which has been called P/2016 BA14.
The second comet will fly by Earth at just 2.2 million miles, with just two others coming closer in the planet’s recorded history, comet D/1770 L1 (Lexell) in 1770 and comet C/1983 H1 (IRAS-Araki-Alcock) in 1983.
Comet P/2016 BA14 has a surprisingly similar orbit to the first comet, which has led researchers to believe it may share a ‘twin nature,’ with comet 252P/LINEAR.
This second comet is about half the size of the first, and astronomers say it could be a fragment which split off at some point in 252P/LINEAR’s past.
‘Comet P/2016 BA14 is possibly a fragment of 252P/LINEAR,’ said Paul Chodas, manager of Nasa’s Center of NEO Studies (CNEOS) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
‘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.’
Comet 252P will pass Earth on March 21 at around 5:14 a.m. (PDT), and P/2016 will follow on March 22 at around 7:30 a.m. (PDT).
An event like this isn’t expected to occur again within our lifetime, but while the comets are considered close, you will still need a professional-grade telescope to catch a glimpse.
‘March 22 will be the closest comet P/2016 BA14 gets to us for at least the next 150 years,’ said Chodas.
‘Comet P/2016 BA14 is not a threat. Instead, it is an excellent opportunity for scientific advancement on the study of comets.’
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