posted on Mar, 26 2006 @ 01:42 PM
First off: No, it is not going to hit us. I'm sure that was the main thought on everyone's mind.
That being said, in 1995 Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (Wow, that's a mouthful!) broke apart into three main pieces, labeled A, B, and C. Now, as
the comet begins to approach again, astronomers have noticed that the A fragment has been replaced by smaller fragments; G, H, J, L, M and N.
Now, as I said, there is no chance for a collision with the Earth. The nearest fragment will come a distant 6 million miles away, or 25 times further
than the Moon. Despite this, the cloud of debris has potential to reach the Earth, showering the atmosphere with micrometeorites and producing one of
the greatest meteor showers in the past century.
Aside from the pretty show, it will be a time of great scientific achievements in the study of comets.
Space.com - Broken Comet On Its Way
In May 2006 the fragments are going to fly past Earth closer than any comet has come in almost eighty years.
"This is a rare opportunity to watch a comet in its death throes—from very close range," says Don Yeomans, head of NASA's Near Earth Object
Program at JPL.
The flyby is a big deal. "The Hubble Space Telescope will be watching," says Yeomans. "Also, the giant Arecibo radar in Puerto Rico will 'ping'
the fragments to determine their shape and spin."
Even backyard astronomers will be able to take pictures as the mini-comets file through the constellations Cygnus and Pegasus on May 12, 13 and 14.
Ironically, despite being so close, these comets will not be very bright. The largest fragments are expected to glow like 3rd or 4th magnitude stars,
which are only dimly visible to the unaided eye.
Of course, anyone who has read Larry Niven's Lucifer's Hammer
may be preparing for a Hot Fudge Sunday!
[edit on 3/26/2006 by cmdrkeenkid]