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Twin comets make closest approach to Earth in over 200 years

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Earlier in the week, two comets passed by the Earth, passing closer than any comet has in over 200 years.

Comet 252P, also known as LINEAR, and Comet P/2016 BA14, also known as PanSTARRS, both made their closest approaches to Earth on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. While they passed close to the planet for a comet, they maintained a safe distance.

While the comets have already made their closest approach to Earth, stargazers may be able to catch a glimpse into early April.


This comet was the first to pass by Earth and was the brightest of the two comets, almost visible to the unaided eye.

"The comet really brightened significantly for Southern Hemisphere observers last week," AccuWeather Meteorologist Dave Samuhel said. "It is on the cusp of naked eye visibility."

Comet LINEAR made its closest approach to Earth on Monday, coming within 3.2-million miles of Earth (approximately 14 times the distance from the Earth to the Moon). It was the fifth closest comet to pass by Earth in recorded history.

Up until Thursday, Comet LINEAR was visible only to stargazers in the Southern Hemisphere. However, the orbit of the comet is such that people in the Northern Hemisphere will be able to spot it in the night sky over the next several weeks.

"It will be lifting higher and higher in the night sky heading into April," Samuhel said. "We just can't say for certain whether it will be visible to the naked eye."

Even if it is not visible to the unaided eye, people should still be able to spot Comet LINEAR with a pair of binoculars or a telescope. The comet should give off a green glow and should be visible through the opening days of April, depending on cloud cover in your area.

In a recent astronomy blog post, Samuhel explained where to find the comet in the sky.


Comet PanSTARRS was the second comet that flew by Earth this week, and although it was not as bright, it made a closer approach than its twin.

At just 2.2-million miles (about 9 times the distance from the Earth to the Moon), PanSTARRS made the second closest approach of any comet in history.

The last time that a comet passed this close to the Earth was over 200 years ago in the late 1700s.

Comet PanSTARRS is much smaller than its twin, meaning that it has not been nearly as bright as Comet LINEAR, but it should still be visible to people who stargaze with a large telescope.

Chance for a meteor shower

With two comets passing within a close proximity of the Earth and both leaving behind a trail of debris, it is possible that they could produce a minor meteor shower around the globe.

"This is highly uncertain, but a very interesting possibility," Samuhel added.

According to EarthSky, if the comets do produce meteors, it will likely be between March 28 and 30.

If you are planning to view potential meteors in late March, then here are a few tips to help:

Tips for stargazing:

1. Head to an area with low light pollution away from any cities or towns.

2. Be patient. It takes your eyes several minutes to adjust to the dark.

3. Watch the weather forecast. If the cloud cover is more than 30 percent, it will be difficult to spot meteors.

4. Don't focus on one specific part of the sky. Try to watch broader view of the sky so you have a better chance at seeing more shooting stars.