A large comet is set to come relatively close to Earth, with stargazers expected to keep an eye out for it as it comes by on April 1st. No, this isn’t a joke. On April Fool’s Day the 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresák comet is set to make its’ closest flyby of Earth ever since it was discovered in 1858.
Whilst that sounds like it will be coming in very close, scientists have been quick to point out that everything is relative. The April Fools’ Day Comet, as it is being called, is expected to pass Earth from a distance of 13.2 million miles, or, over 50 times the Moon’s distance.
Whilst its timing has led many to question the validity of the event, the humour hasn’t been lost on the stargazers and space scientists who are going to be looking through their telescopes to catch a glimpse of the comet. Barely a mile in diameter, Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresák will only be able to be seen in the right conditions, as Science Alert’s Fiona Macdonald explains:
“The comet will appear in the night sky as a diffuse blob of light, which means it’s only as visible as Neptune in the night sky, and is too faint to be seen with the naked eye. Good binoculars or small telescopes will be needed to pick it out, as well as a dark, clear, moonless night.”
This isn’t the first time April Fools’ Comet has done a flyby of Earth. It returns roughly every five and a half years, but this is the first time its passing has coincided with the first of April. As part of its’ “night of firsts”, scientists are predicting that the comet could undergo what they’ve described as a “dramatic outburst in brightness” as it approaches our Sun. This would mean it would flare up in a way that would make it visible to the naked eye.
Scientists aren’t entirely sure why the comet behaves this way as it comes closer to the Sun; it was first recorded as displaying that behaviour in 1973, since then, it has repeated that behaviour in 1995, 2001 and 2006. Since the increase in brightness coincides only with its’ distance to the Sun, the April Fools’ Comet is expected to flare up over a week later on the 12th of April. Despite the comet not putting up its’ flashy display on a day where everyone is expecting a prank, you can still view its’ entire passage across our telescopes thanks to Slooh’s livestream!