NASA has revealed in a press note that April Fool’s Day comet officially named 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresák made its closest approach to Earth on April 1 in more than 100 years.
The comet is named in such a way that the moment you read it you will write off the news as a prank, but it turns out that the US space agency wasn’t playing any prank and there is indeed a comet named April Fool’s Day comet.
The comet made its closest pass by Earth at a distance of about 13 million miles (0.14 astronomical units) in more than 50 years and perhaps more than a century, NASA said. The comet is part of the Jupiter family of comets and it makes a trip around our Sun every 5.4 years often coming close to Earth during some of the those flybys. 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.
The team monitoring the comet observed it 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.