Virtual Telescope

This morning, Comet P/2016 BA14 whizzed past Earth, and came closer to our planet that all but two other space objects in recorded history. And we'll have to wait 150 years to see another one come as close.

The comet, which remained a comfortable 2.2 million miles away, wasn't visible without a telescope. But interested parties could track its progress through the Virtual Telescope, "a very powerful set of real,  robotic telescopes, remotely accessible online."

Even through the lens of the Virtual Telescope, images of the comet are grainy at best.

Despite a somewhat underwhelming impression, the comet is important for our understanding of space.


Paul Chodas, who manages NASA's Center of NEO Studies, said in a statement that the fly-by "is an excellent opportunity for scientific advancement on the study of comets."

Scientists study comets to learn more about the universe — and to have a better grasp on how to handle a possible asteroid strike on Earth.

Comet P/2016 BA14 was preceded by another near-flying comet, 252P/LINEAR, which whizzed past Earth on Monday. Chodas says the two are likely related, explaining "Comet P/2016 BA14 is possibly a fragment of 252P/LINEAR. The two could be related because their orbits are so remarkably similar."



If nothing else, it's cool to be able to see two comets fly past Earth sequentially.



Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.