April 27, 2006

NASA Details Comet’s Approach to Earth

NASA officials issued more information Thursday about Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3.

The comet will pass Earth next month as it approaches the point nearest the sun during its 5 1/2-year orbit.

Astronomers have been observing the comet for more than 75 years and its trajectory around the sun is well understood, NASA said.

Astronomers say the comet has broken into more than 40 fragments, but any pieces resulting from the breakup of its main body will come no closer than 5.5 million miles to Earth. That's more than 20 times the Earth-moon distance.

The comet's closest approach to Earth will occur May 12-28, NASA scientists said, emphasizing neither the main comet nor any of its pieces pose a danger.

The main fragment will pass closest to Earth May 12 at a distance of approximately 7.3 million miles. It will be visible with small telescopes during the morning hours in the constellation Vulpecula.