It's no April Fool's Day joke, as a huge object hurtling by our planet right now, and if you grab a pair of binoculars you can see it tonight.
The end of the world will come someday, and of all the doomsday scenarios, a large object from outer space smashing into Earth seems like one of the most likely scenarios. Fortunately, April 1 wasn’t that day, although an April Fool’s Day comet is passing close enough to Earth that us Earthlings can see it fairly clearly in the north sky.
Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak was first visible on Saturday and will continue to be visible Sunday and even early into this week. It can be seen with a pair of binoculars or a small telescope in the north sky not far from the Big Dipper. It’s actually been observed before, by the three astronomers for which it is named. The first time was in 1858, the second in 1907, and finally in 1951. It wasn’t until that third observation that scientists realized they had all seen the same comet.
Comet 41P actually flies by the Earth about once every five years, but many times it’s tough to see since it is 13.2 million miles from Earth, so there’s no chance it’ll collide with us. But this is an extraordinary situation for the comet, as it’s the closest it has come to Earth in more than a century.
“Whether a comet will put on a good show for observers is notoriously difficult to predict, but 41P has a history of outbursts, and put on quite a display in 1973,” NASA said in a statement. “If the comet experiences similar outbursts this time, there’s a chance it could become bright enough to see with the naked eye. The comet is expected to reach perihelion, or its closest approach to the sun, on April 12.
“Officially named 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresák to honor its three discoverers, the comet is being playfully called the April Fool’s Day comet on this pass. Discovery credit goes first to Horace Tuttle, who spotted the comet in 1858. According to the Cometography website, 41P was recognized at the time as a periodic comet — one that orbits the sun — but astronomers initially were uncertain how long the comet needed to make the trip. The comet was rediscovered in 1907 by Michael Giacobini but not immediately linked to the object seen in 1858.”