If you’re outside come March 22 and happen to feel a sudden rush of wind…
No, not really. But you (and everyone else on Earth) will come as close to a comet as anyone has since 1770, when comet P/2016 BA14 becomes the third closest comet flyby of Earth of all time, the Weather Channel reports. How close are we talking? Still about 9 times the distance to the moon. The Lexell comet in 1770 passed about six lunar distances away. “Asteroids frequently flyby at such close distances, but comet encounters are rare,” says astronomer Michael Kelley.
Although the comet’s close range is enough to pique our interest, astronomers are more interested in the possibility that the comet is a sister comet to 252P/LINEAR 12. 252P/LINEAR 12 will pass by on March 21. There is a chance that P/2016 BA14 actually broke off of 252P/LINEAR 12.
“If we can understand if and why these small comets broke apart years ago, we may be able to better determine the general impact threat comets present to the Earth,” Kelley says.
If you want to catch a glimpse of P/2016 BA14, make sure you have your binoculars or a telescope ready come early morning March 22. Tonight, party cloudy and windy, is not the best night for comet watching, but you can check back for your up-to-date Austin weather forecasts here.