February 25, 2016 - SPACE - A pair of comets showing very similar orbits are approaching Earth. While both will pass at a safe distance, one of them will have a record-breakingly close flyby.
Comet 252P/LINEAR 12 was already known to be passing by Earth on March 21, 2016 at a distance of 3,290,000 miles (5.3 million km).
This is about 14 times the Earth-Moon distance, and, taken by itself, sets no record.
But recently astronomers learned that this comet has company. On January 22, 2016, the Pan-STARRS observatory in Hawaii detected an object with a similar orbit that was preliminary designated as asteroid 2016 BA14.
Further observations showed a cometary tail, suggesting the object is a comet and not an asteroid.
Did comet 252P split in two? We may find out soon.
Comet P/2016 BA14 (Pan-STARRS) will safely pass Earth on March 22,2016, passing even closer than comet 252P. Comet P/2016 BA14 flyby will be at just 2,199,933 miles (3.5 million km) or about 9 lunar distances, which is very close for a comet. In fact, this comet – P/2016 BA14 – will set a record as the third-closest known comet to pass our planet in recorded history.
Astronomers have seen a lot of asteroids coming even closer to Earth, but … comets are different. No, there is absolutely no danger to planet Earth, because 9 lunar distances is a very safe distance.
Which comet has passed closer to Earth than any other comet in recorded history?
First place goes to Comet D/1770 L1 (Lexell). Comet Lexell went at just 5.9 lunar distances on July, 1770. That was about 1,410,100 miles (2.3 million km), so close that Charles Messier noted the comet’s coma looked about the size of four times the apparent size of a full moon.
According to astronomers calculations, Comet 55P/1366 U1 (Temple-Tuttle) passed by Earth on October, 1366 at 8.9 lunar distances.
On May, 1983, comet C/1983 H1 ( IRAS-Araki-Alcock ) passed at 12.2 lunar distances. So comet IRAS – currently the third-closest comet to pass by Earth – will step down to become the fourth-closest after the upcoming flyby on March by the comet discovered this year (P/2016 BA14).
Since comet IRAS passed at 12.2 lunar distances, the upcoming flyby of P/2016 BA14 will be the closest flyby of a comet in 246 years!
|Photo of comet P/2016 BA14 by Steven M. Tilley using the iTelescope.net Observatory in Siding Spring, Australia. Copyright Steven M. Tilley. Used with permission.|
Will it be visible?
Comets may look bright when passing close to the sun. Although comet P/2016 BA14 will pass relatively close to our planet, its great distance to the sun will make it look very dim. It will not be visible to the unaided eye. If there are no variations in brightness, scientists estimate that Comet P/2016 BA14 should have a magnitude of 12 or 13 , which means it will only be captured with large telescopes. Good news is that we may have nice views coming from a famous telescope in orbit.
Astronomer Michael Kelly from the University of Maryland said:
We have secured 6 orbits of Hubble Space Telescope time to snap some high-resolution photos during the close approach.The relative closeness of the comet to our planet will cause that images obtained by advanced amateurs and observatories will clearly show the motion of the celestial visitor, which is traveling at 31,345 miles per hour (50,445 km/h) through space.
Will this “new” comet produce meteors?
Probably not, but, according to some astronomers, there is a slight posssibility of seeing a few meteors related to Comet P/2016 BA14 around March 20, 2016. So heads up around that date, just in case.
The twin comets flyby will be a very interesting event. Stay tuned!
Bottom line: Two comets in similar orbits will pass Earth safely in late March. One of them – comet P/2016 BA14 – will set a record as the third-closest comet to Earth in recorded history. - Earth Sky.