Tomorrow is more than just April Fool’s Day. It’s also the day the Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak will make its closest pass since it was discovered in 1858. Because of the untimeliness of its visit, many are now calling it the April Fools’ Day comet. And no, this isn’t a prank posted a day early.
An April Fools’ Day visit from a comet
According to Space.com, the comet will be at its closest position to Earth in its recorded history on April 1 when it will be 13.2 million miles away. The perihelion point (the part of the orbit that is nearest the sun) of the comet is just outside of the Earth’s orbit, and the perihelion passage won’t take place until April 12. At that point, the Tuttle-Giabcobini-Kresak comet will be approximately 97.1 million miles away from the sun.
Although April Fools’ Day is the date the comet will be closest to Earth since its discovery, there is actually a six-day time span between March 29 until April 3 when it will be very close. The reason for the long timeframes here is because the comet’s is running almost parallel to Earth’s orbit.
Two weeks to catch the comet
During the two weeks between March 29 and April 12, the April Fools’ Day comet will pass through the major constellations of Draco and Ursa Major. Space.com explains that these star groupings are circumpolar constellations that, for most people in the Northern Hemisphere, are always over the northern horizon. This should make it fairly easy for amateur astronomers and starwatchers to spot the Tuttle-Giabcobini-Kresak comet.
However, even though the close position of the so-called April Fools’ Day comet means it will be a better-than-usual opportunity to view it using a small consumer telescope, it’s unlikely to be an especially spectacular sight. The comet is quite small with a diameter of less than a mile across, and it can’t be seen with the naked eye. Despite this, it’s apparently unusual for a comet to get as close to Earth as this comet will.
No need to worry about the April Fools’ Day comet
This is probably the best indicator that this isn’t an April Fools’ Day prank. The Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak comet will not strike Earth (or at least astronomers don’t expect it to). After all, it will still be millions of miles away at its nearest point. EarthSky.org describes the distance as 50 times the distance between Earth and the moon.