A Bright-Green Comet Buzzed Earth This Week On Its Closest Approach In 1,300 Years

Lukasz Pawel SzczepanskiShutterstock

A green comet darted past our planet earlier this week in what was described as its closest approach in more than a millennium.

The comet was only discovered a few months ago, at the end of 2018. According to the Minor Planet Center of the International Astronomical Union, our celestial visitor was first spotted on December 20, 2018, by Japanese astronomer Masayuki Iwamoto of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.

The bright ball of ice, dust, and frozen gases became known as Comet 2018/Y1 Iwamoto (C/2018 Y1, for short) – named after the astronomer who discovered it – and has since kept sky watchers very busy with its exciting activity.

Subsequent calculations have revealed that Comet 2018/Y1 Iwamoto is a long-period comet engaged in a very elliptical path around the sun. In fact, this comet’s orbit is so elongated that it takes it nearly 1,400 years to journey once around the sun.

On its long way to circle the sun, Comet 2018/Y1 Iwamoto inevitably passes through our neck of the cosmic woods. Its latest visit occurred on February 12, at around 3:10 p.m. EST, when the comet zoomed past Earth at a distance of 28 million miles away.

While this may not seem like such a huge deal, its flyby of Earth on Tuesday was actually a fairly close encounter in comet terms. By comparison, Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner only came within 36.4 million miles of Earth when it flew past our planet in September of 2018, as reported by the Inquisitr at the time.

Three months later, in December of 2018, Earth was visited by Comet 46P/Wirtanen. Hailed as “the brightest comet of 2018,” comet 46P approached a lot closer than comet 21P – or than C/2018 Y1, for that matter – whizzing by at a distance of just 7.2 million miles away, as reported by the Inquisitr.

During its close approach on February 12, Comet 2018/Y1 Iwamoto barreled past our planet at an incredible speed of 147,948 miles per hour, reports EarthSky. Although the comet was not bright enough to be visible with the naked eye, stargazers were able to get a pretty good view of the fast-moving green comet with the help of binoculars and telescopes.

Seeing as though Tuesday’s encounter was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lay eyes on the speedy comet, astrophotographers leaped at the chance of capturing C/2018 Y1 on camera. After all, the comet won’t be back for another 1,371.3 years, which means that the next time human eyes will get to see the green comet will be around the year 3390.

As it flew past our planet, this fascinating comet was captured by space enthusiasts in a slew of photos, some of which were published today by EarthSky. Another interesting collection of snapshots taken during the comet’s close flyby was posted on the Space website.

The Virtual Telescope Project 2.0 also got a chance to image Comet 2018/Y1 Iwamoto. The resulting photo, which managed to capture the comet’s faint ion trail, was published on their website shortly after the flyby.

Earlier today, the astronomers also released a short video showcasing the moment when Comet 2018/Y1 Iwamoto crossed the same part of the sky occupied by the spiral galaxy NGC 2903. While their meeting in the sky was nothing more than an illusion of perspective, given that the galaxy is vastly more distant than the comet – its is located some 30.66 million light-years from Earth in the Leo constellation – seeing them together made for a splendid vision.

Unlike short-period comets, which take less than 200 years to complete an orbit around the sun, long-period comets originated at the very edge of the solar system. While short-period comets, such as Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner and Comet 46P/Wirtanen, are believed to have formed inside the Kuiper Belt – the distant realm of frozen worlds floating beyond the orbit of Neptune – long-period comets are thought to be born in the Oort Cloud.

As the Inquisitr previously reported, the Oort Cloud is a spherical shell of icy comets found well beyond the solar system’s outermost planets, which begins some 93 billion miles from the sun. That’s 1,000 times the distance between the sun and Earth.