Giant K2 Comet Making Its Way Near Earth

(PatLast Last Thursday, the mega-comet K2 passed safely by the Earth and is expected to grow brighter as it reaches its closest approach to the sun in December.

Thursday’s pass was the closest approach the K2 comet, officially named Comet C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS), has made to our planet so far.

But before you panic and think Armageddon is upon us, K2 was 168 million miles from Earth last Thursday, far beyond the orbit of Mars. It was dimly visible because K2 is just massive. Though how massive, they’re still not sure.

The comet was first spotted in the outer reaches of the solar system in 2017 by the PanSTARRS (the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System).

Initial observations revealed a potentially large core to K2 that is surrounded by a huge envelope of gas and dust. At the time it was first spotted, K2 was between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus approximately 1.49 billion miles from the sun (or 16 times the distance between the Earth and the sun).

And while Thursday’s pass was relatively “close,” the stellar display will get even more spectacular as K2 continues its journey toward the sun which it orbits. It is expected to reach its closest approach, or perihelion, in December.

While K2 can now be seen using larger amateur telescopes, in December, the comet is likely to grow brighter as the proximity to the sun warms it up.

While scientists are still debating over K2’s size, the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) suggested its nucleus could be anywhere from 18 to 100 miles wide. The Hubble Space Telescope, however, shows K2 may only be about 11 miles wide.

K2 is projected to reach its closest pass on December 19. And as it continues to make its journey toward the inner solar system, it is growing brighter.

When it reaches its perihelion, K2 will be approximately 1.8 astronomical units from the sun, which is almost double the distance between our planet and the sun.