by Brian Galloway

Monday, March 21, and Tuesday, March 22, will be significant days for our understanding of comets, as two "twin" comets will pass by the Earth at relatively close distances.

Comet P/2016 BA14 was first discovered in January of this year. Scientists soon realized that it has a very similar orbit to Comet 252P/LINEAR, a specimen discovered back in 2000. Scientists think these "twin" comets could be related in some way.

"Comet P/2016 BA14 is possibly a fragment of 252P/LINEAR. The two could be related because their orbits are so remarkably similar," claimed Paul Chodas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Past observations have shown that comets are relatively fragile structures, so comet BA14, the smaller of the two, could be a piece of 252P

 

A visualization of the distance at which the comets will fly by the Earth. (Credit: NASA)

 

Catching a comet flyby

252P/LINEAR is about 750 ft across, and it will miss Earth by a distance of 3.3 million miles at around 8:14 EDT on Monday. Comet P/2016 BA14 will pass by Earth on Tuesday at a distance of around 2.2 million miles  at 10:30 a.m. EDT.

While 2.2 million miles seems like a huge distance, (and it is) it will be the third closest comet flyby in recorded history. It will also be the closest BA14 will pass by Earth for 150 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 claimed in a statement

Neither comet poses any danger to Earth, but they'll come close enough for scientists to study and learn more about comets in general.

"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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