This is no joke. A comet, being playfully called the April Fool’s Day comet, is set to make its closest approach to Earth in more than a century on Saturday, NASA has said. Officially named 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresák to honor its three discoverers, the comet is being playfully called the April Fool’s Day comet on this pass, NASA said in a statement.
On this approach, the comet will pass our planet 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.
A member of the Jupiter family of comets, 41P makes a trip around the Sun every 5.4 years, coming relatively close to Earth on some of those trips. For scientists, 41P’s visit is an opportunity to fill in details about the 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.
DiSanti and his team will be observing 41P on April 1 using NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii. The comet’s close approach to Earth will also give observers with binoculars or a telescope a special viewing opportunity.
Comet hunters in the Northern Hemisphere should look for it near the constellations Draco and Ursa Major, which the Big Dipper is part of, NASA said.
“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 perihelion, or its closest approach to the Sun, on April 12.