The phrase “April Fools’ Day Comet” is currently trending on Google and social media and it isn’t a hilarious April Fools’-themed joke.
According to USA Today, a comet named 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak is the reason April Fools’ Day comet is currently trending. Today – on April Fools’ Day – this comet, which was first discovered back in 1858, will make its closest pass by the Earth on record.
Earth Sky notes there is no reason to fear the April Fools’ comet as it will still be a great distance from planet Earth. The April Fools’ comet will pass by the Earth at a safe distance of roughly 13.2 million miles. By comparison, this is 50 times the distance the moon is from planet Earth.
Earth Sky noted that amateur astronomers with small telescopes would have been able to get a sneak peak of 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak days before April Fools’ Day when the comet actually passes by the Earth. Earth Sky speculates that tons of amateur astronomers will be watching the comet as it passes by tonight. People can also catch a glimpse of the comet days after it passes by the Earth before it disappears into space.
According to USA Today, 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak – which has been coined as the April Fools’ comet – will be flying across the far northern sky. This means stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere of Earth will be able to watch the comet for most of the night. At roughly 9 p.m. EST, the April Fools’ Day comet should be near the handle of the Big Dipper.
Based on National Weather Service predictions, clouds might make it difficult for most of the Northeast, the Pacific Northwest, and the central Plains to see the comet tonight. The sky should be nice and clear for everyone else.
According to Science Alert, the April Fools’ comet isn’t a very large comet. In fact, it is less than a mile in diameter and it isn’t possible for you to see it with a naked eye. This means only those with a telescope pointed at the sky are going to be able to see the 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak tonight.
“Usually it appears in the night sky as a diffuse blob of light. Good binoculars or small telescopes will be needed to pick it out, as well as a dark, clear, moonless night.”
Those who have binoculars or a telescope are fortunate enough that the moon will be a thin crescent tonight. This will prevent the moon from hindering anyone’s ability to watch the comet as it flies by the Earth.
For those who don’t have a telescope or pair of binoculars, there are live comet cams which will be tracking the comet as it passes by the Earth. An astronomy website called Slooh will be tracking the comet via live cam with their telescopes located at the Canary Islands.
When comets are discovered, they are named after the individual who discovered them. 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak is unique in the fact that it carries the name of three different individuals who discovered it in 1858, 1907, and 1951. It was not until 1951 – when it was discovered for the third time – that astronomers realized it was the same comet. This particular comet belongs to a group of comets which are referred to as “Jupiter comets.”
“These are comets that have been captured by the gravity of Jupiter, forcing them in an orbit that takes them between the sun and the gas giant.”
The 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak passes by the Earth every five and a half years. If you don’t get the opportunity to see what is being coined as the April Fools’ Day comet this year, there’s always 2023.
Did you think the April Fools’ Day comet was just a joke? Are you going to be stargazing tonight or watching from the live cams online?
[Featured Image by solarseven/Shutterstock]