Astronomers estimated that on March 23, a comet would fly closer to the Earth than any comet since 1770. But Vishnu Reddy, a research scientist at the Arizona-based Planetary Science Institute, made his observations using NASA’s infrared telescope in Hawai’i two weeks before the expected pass.
“I kind of had a hunch that, ‘What if we get bad weather?'” Dr. Reddy says. “On the 23rd, as predicted, it got clouded out completely, so I was really fortunate to get those observations.”
“One of the threats we always have to worry about when we study these comets is the threat they pose to life on Earth,” Reddy says. “It’s important because if something is going to impact the earth, we want to know what it is made of.”
He says Comet Pan-STARRS P/2016 BA14 was large, probably between 0.4 miles and 0.75 miles in diameter, but easier to study than most comets because so much of its atmosphere and iconic tail had burnt out. It was also remarkably bright in the infrared spectrum, with a reflective ability similar to fresh asphalt, according to a press release.