Comet not seen since 1956 set to fly by Earth

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Stargazers will want to keep a close eye on the sky in the coming days. A comet with a 69-year orbit is set to pass by Earth.

It is called Comet 13P/Olbers, named after astronomer Heinrich Olbers, who is credited with first identifying the comet in 1815. P stands for periodic, which means the comet takes less than 200 years to complete its orbit. The comet was given the number 13 because it was the 13th periodic comet to be identified.

According to NASA, the comet is considered a “Near Earth Asteroid” because of its orbit’s proximity to Earth but is not considered potentially hazardous. On this pass, the comet will come as close as 1.9 astronomical units away from Earth’s orbit — 1.9 of the average distance between the Earth and the sun or approximately 284 million kilometers.

  • A wide view of the orbit of Comet 13P/Olbers. (Courtesy NASA)
  • A zoomed-in view of the orbit of Comet 13P/Olbers. (Courtesy NASA)

On its orbit, the comet will come within 1.18 AU of the sun and stretch as far as 32.64 AU away from the sun. The comet is currently approaching its perihelion — its closest point to the sun. It will reach that point on Sunday, June 30. It will reach its closest point to Earth on July 20.

The comet’s orbit is elliptical and takes 25,400 days to complete its trip. According to, the comet was last observed by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center on Sept. 12, 1956.

StarWalk says the comet should be visible on Sunday with binoculars and reach a maximum brightness of 6.5. The comet is passing through the bottom end of the Lynx constellation and starts crossing above Leo Minor in mid-July.

There are several maps that can help stargazers spot the comet, including the Sky Tonight app.

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