No joke: Comet will be historically close to Earth on April 1

The comet's tongue-twister of a name stems from the surnames of the three astronomers who separately discovered it - Horace Parnell Tuttle in 1858, Michel Giacobini in 1907 and Lubos Kresák in 1951.

It was first discovered back in 1858 and passes Earth every five and a half years, but this time the icy body of space mass will be closer than ever.

"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.

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On Saturday (1 April), stargazers from around the world will have the unique opportunity to watch the close approach of comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresák - the April Fool's Day Comet. Since the event is taking place on April 1, it is being called as an April Fool's Day comet.

The comet will miss Earth by about 13.2 million miles at its closest approach - a hair's breadth by astronomical standards but nowhere close to a collision. Astronomers will track the comet during its flyby to learn more about 41P and its counterparts.

Pramod G Galgali, joint director, Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium, told Bangalore Mirror that Nandi Hills is the ideal location to view the comet as it is located north of Bengaluru and offers a clear night sky for viewing.

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During this two-week stretch, the comet will be passing across the stars of Ursa Major and Draco, circumpolar constellations that are perpetually above the northern horizon for most viewers in the Northern Hemisphere.

"This comet is famous for major outbursts that make it highly variable in brightness", NASA notes. Eastern Standard Time. Since it's too small to be seen with the naked eye (it's less than a mile in diameter), you'll need binoculars or a telescope and should point your lenses near the Big Dipper.

The Slooh online observatory tracked comet 41P late Friday (March 31) with remotely operated telescopes, showing the comet as a green object in the night sky.

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If you don't have a telescope handy, that's ok.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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