Close encounters: Comet duo to zoom Earth this month

Close encounters: Comet duo to zoom Earth this month
Chicken? (Image: NASA/Astronomical Society of South Australia, Justin Tilbrook)

[Ed. – I don’t know…they missed their chance on St. Patrick’s Day.]

An emerald-green comet will brush the Earth Monday, followed one day later by a kissing cousin that will swerve closer to the planet than any other comet in nearly 250 years.

The first and bigger of the two comets will be visible Monday to the naked eye in the southern hemisphere, as long as city lights are far away. Stargazers in the United States will probably need only binoculars to see the bigger comet in late March. …

The first member of the pair, known as comet 252P/LINEAR, is a bright green color from the carbon gas it’s puffing out, says the University of Maryland’s Matthew Knight. 252P will slide past Earth at a distance of roughly 3 million miles. …

Astronomers discovered the trailing member of the pair, P/2016 BA14, a few months ago. It was shrugged off as yet another asteroid, or space rock. Then astronomers peering through a telescope saw it had a tail – and was therefore a comet. That means BA14 and its larger companion “are among the closest comets to pass by Earth in recorded history,” says Knight, who took the first snapshot revealing BA14 is a comet. The only comet known to have skimmed past us at a smaller distance was Lexell’s Comet in 1770.

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