HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - One of the "twin" comets passing by the earth this week – and creating no small amount of buzz online – was discovered by a researcher using a telescope atop Haleakala.
A researcher using the University of Hawaii PanSTARRS spotted Comet P/2016 BA14, the smaller of the two comets, on Jan. 22.
It was initially thought to be an asteroid, but follow-up observations confirmed it had a faint tail.
But the bigger surprise was the orbit of the new comet: Comet P/2016 BA14 follows an orbit unusually similar to Comet 252P/Linear, discovered back 2000.
It's unclear how the two comets are related, but it's believed they are related. One theory: The comet discovered earlier this year could actually be a fragment of the comet first spotted in 2000.
Both comets are zipping past Earth this week at safe distances, NASA said (and reiterated more than once) in a recent news release.
The closest approach of 252P/Linear happened Monday at 2:14 a.m. Hawaii time. The smaller comet is right behind it: Its closest approach happens Tuesday at 4:30 a.m. Hawaii time.
The bigger comet flew by Earth at a distance of 3.3 million miles. The comet discovered by the Haleakala telescope will fly by at 2.2 million miles.
Those distances are huge, but here's something to consider: The smaller comet's flyby is the third closest in recorded history. The two closest: Comet D/1770L1 in 1770 and Comet C/1983H1 in 1983.