Comet 67P, shaped like a duck-shaped snowball, made its closest approach to Earth on Friday and will not return to Earth for another 200 years.
Comet 67P passed Earth at a distance of 39 million miles during its closest approach around 7:50 p.m. EST on Friday, Nov.12.
Nine days earlier, the comet had crossed perihelion, its closest approach to the sun in its elliptical orbit around our star. The comet was roughly 112 million miles from the sun as it passed by.
According to EarthSky, the comet’s course, which now sees it complete one circuit around the sun every six and a half years, will now begin to diverge from that of our planet, and the celestial snowball won’t make another close encounter until 2214.
Now is the optimum moment for skygazers to focus their telescopes in the direction of the comet. It can be found close to Pollux, the brightest star in the constellation Gemini.
Comet 67P is the best-studied comet, thanks to Rosetta and Philae orbiter missions. Scientists are currently going through the mission’s findings.
At the end of its mission, the Rosetta orbiter crashed-landed on the comet’s surface, capturing more up-close images and measurements. That means the duck-shaped snowball is currently hurtling away from the sun with two defunct human-made passengers aboard (the strange shape is one of the mission’s most renowned discoveries).
In 2014, following a 10-year voyage across the solar system, a European probe called Rosetta began orbiting Comet 67P, bringing the icy body into the international media limelight.
Rosetta spent more than two and a half years orbiting the comet, taking precise measurements and observations of the comet’s surface and immediate environs.
The mission’s highlight was the landing of a smaller probe called Philae, which Rosetta had carried with it. The landing on the comet in December 2014 was the first of its kind, but it didn’t go off without a hitch.
Philae bounced twice after the first touchdown and ended up in a significantly less convenient spot than the scientists had planned. The failure of two harpoons to attach the lander to the comet upon first contact was later blamed for the mishap, reported Live Science.
Sadly, Philae landed on a cliff, blocking the sun from reaching its solar panels. The probe ran out of energy after two days and went to sleep. It briefly woke up in June 2015 as the comet’s angle towards the sun changed.