Two comets will make the closest flyby of Earth in decades this week

On Monday and Tuesday this week, two comets will zip past Earth, with one of them coming closer to our planet than any comet since 1983. And the larger, but more distant, of the two is becoming so bright, scientists believe that at its closest point, it might be visible in the night sky with the naked eye.

The smaller comet, Comet P/2016 BA14, won’t be quite so obvious, but it’ll pass by us at a distance of just 3.5 million km (2.2 million miles), making it the third closest flyby of a comet in recorded history. To be clear, that’s still more than nine times further away than the Moon, so there’s no chance the comet will hit us (and in case you had any doubts, NASA uses the word “safely” five times in its press release). Still, the event is sure to make for some pretty spectacular skywatching, and it could also teach us a lot about how comets work.

“Comet P/2016 BA14 is not a threat,” clarified Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s centre of Near Earth Object (NEO) Studies. “Instead, it is an excellent opportunity for scientific advancement on the study of comets.”What’s so special about these two comets is that scientists don’t really know how – or even if – they’re related. Also, having two comets passing us so closely within a day of each other is an incredibly rare occurrence. Source: Two comets will make the closest flyby of Earth in decades this week

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