Watch the skies for the ‘devil comet’ now rather than during the total solar eclipse

Watch the skies for the ‘devil comet’ now rather than during the total solar eclipse - Science - News

The Enigmatic “Devil Comet” Pons-Brooks: A Once-in-a-Lifetime Celestial Event

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An extraordinary horned comet, colloquially known as the “devil comet,” has been gracing our night sky since late February and will continue to be visible throughout March. This celestial body, officially named Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks, is a rare and intriguing phenomenon that astronomers eagerly anticipate studying due to its recent series of outbursts and unique shape.

The devil comet’s bizarre appearance, which resembles the Millennium Falcon from “Star Wars,” is still a mystery to scientists. This celestial object takes approximately 71 years to orbit around the sun, making it an elusive and precious opportunity for astronomers to study its true nature.

Given that this comet won’t pass by Earth again for several decades, collective observations could provide valuable insights into the behavior of Pons-Brooks. The comet will make its closest approach to the sun on April 21, coming within 74.4 million miles (119.7 million kilometers) of our star. It will then make its closest pass by Earth on June 2, but it will be 139.4 million miles (224.4 million kilometers) away from our planet and won’t pose a threat.

For those in the Northern Hemisphere, the last 10 days of March offer the best view of this enigmatic comet. According to Dr. Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, and Davide Farnocchia, navigation engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, viewers should locate a spot away from city lights with an unobstructed view of the western horizon and use binoculars to help identify the comet, which may be challenging to spot without them.

Beginning April 2, the comet will move into the daytime sky and become invisible to nighttime observers until the total solar eclipse on April 8. During this astronomical event, the comet will be approximately 25 degrees away from the eclipsed sun and should be easily visible to those witnessing the eclipse.

After April 21, the comet will shift to the southern night sky, making it only observable for those in the Southern Hemisphere.

Discovered independently by astronomers Jean-Louis Pons and William Robert Brooks in 1812, this celestial body is estimated to be between 6.2 to 12.4 miles (10 to 20 kilometers) in diameter. Its green appearance is typical of most comets, as they contain diatomic carbon molecules that absorb sunlight and emit a green hue from our perspective.

Recently, Pons-Brooks has exhibited intriguing behavior, with multiple outbursts causing the comet to take on a horned appearance and soar through our solar system. While such outbursts are not uncommon in comets, they have been more frequent for this particular celestial body, making it a unique and fascinating object of study.

Comets are essentially frozen remnants from the solar system’s formation, consisting of dust, rock, and ice, with frozen elements such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. As they approach the sun, comets heat up and brighten, releasing gases that can create jets and intriguing patterns.

Astronomers suspect that the outbursts from Pons-Brooks may be due to heat vaporizing material inside the comet, causing pressure to build up and break through the surface. While the gas release itself might not be visible in telescopes, the resulting dust clouds would create the observed events.

Scientists continue to observe Pons-Brooks to gain a better understanding of its rotation rate and how the jets of material might be affecting its motion. This unique celestial body presents an opportunity for astronomers to learn more about the behavior of comets and their role in our solar system.

If you’re unable to witness this rare phenomenon in person, be sure to keep an eye on updates from astronomers and organizations like NASA for further insights into the fascinating world of Pons-Brooks.