A comet will make a closest pass to the Earth in more than a century on Saturday, according to US space agency NASA. Since the event is taking place on April 1, it is being called as an April Fool’s Day comet. Well, this might sound like a joke but it’s actually not.
NASA said that the April Fool’s Day comet is officially named 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresák in honour of its three discoverers, However, it is being called the April Fool’s Day comet on this pass playfully.
The April Fool’s Day comet will come as close as at a distance of about 13 million miles (0.14 astronomical units), or about 55 times the distance from Earth to the moon.
“This is the comet’s closest approach to Earth in more than 50 years and perhaps more than a century,” NASA said.
41P is a member of the Jupiter family of comets. It revolves around the Sun every 5.4 years, hence coming relatively close to the Earth on some of those trips.
Scientists see this as an opportunity to seek details about the April Fool’s Day comet’s composition, coma and nucleus.
“An important aspect of Jupiter-family comets is that fewer of them have been studied, especially in terms of the composition of ices in their nuclei, compared with comets from the Oort cloud,” said Michael DiSanti of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
On April 1, the 41P will be observed DiSanti and his team using NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii.
How and where to watch the April Fool’s Day comet?
Observers with binoculars or a telescope will also get a special viewing opportunity as the April Fool’s Day comet will make a close approach to our planet Earth.
NASA said comet hunters in the Northern Hemisphere should watch out for April Fool’s Day comet near the onstellations Draco and Ursa Major, which the Big Dipper is part of.
“Whether a comet will put on a good show for observers is notoriously difficult to predict, but 41P has a history of outbursts, and put on quite a display in 1973. If the comet experiences similar outbursts this time, there’s a chance it could become bright enough to see with the naked eye,” NASA said.
The comet is expected to reach its closest approach or perihelion to the Sun, on April 12.