Two comets are expected to pass by the Earth today (21:03:16) and tomorrow. The smaller one will be the closest a comet has been to us since 1983 while the bigger one might be seen in the night sky.
The first one, Comet P/2016 BA14, discovered in January, will not be as conspicuous, and it will pass near our planet from a distance of only 3.5 million km. This event will mark the third closest comet flyby in documented history.
The larger one is named Comet 252P/LINEAR. Scientists have been monitoring this one for over 15 years now, since 2000. It will pass us by at a distance of 5.2 million km; it will thus become the 5th closest comet. An interesting fact about 252P/LINEAR is that its brightness shines 100 times more than it was expected. Another particular thing about it is that it is green because of the ionisation of diatomic carbon which is emitted. 252P/LINEAR is getting closer and closer to us, but, fortunately, only at a safe distance. It will be visible to those in the Southern Hemisphere; but, since it will be at its closest point at 9.14am EDT tomorrow which is only 2 nights before the full moon, it might not be as easily seen as one would have liked.
Live broadcasts of the occurrence will be made available by the Virtual Telescope Project on March 21 and 22. So, even if you are not at the right place at the right time to view the comet, you can still watch the programmes.
It is to be noted that such an event involving two comets passing by the Earth in 24 hours is a rarity, specially that comets themselves exist in significantly few numbers in near-Earth space. Researchers are looking forward to learn more about comets through this phenomenon.
Also, the two comets are thought to be linked. While their orbits are not identical, they appear to bear some resemblance. Some experts have suggested that P/2016 BA14 might have originally been part of the bigger comet to have ultimately broken away from it.
We are all excited about comets and everything, but let us now address the most important question: is it going to be potentially dangerous to us? In case you’re worried of any of the two hitting us, rest assured. Though the distance is being described as close, it is not that close — rather, it will be over 9 times further away from us than our moon is, which is why NASA has mentioned that the “comets will safely fly past Earth” in its press release published last week.
Furthermore, Paul Chodas, the manager of NASA’s centre of Near Earth Object Studies (NEO) Studies has reiterated how the comet does not constitute a hazard to us.