Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks: A Devilish Visitor from Outer Space

A huge comet that is approaching Earth has made two outbursts of dust and gas in four months, giving it a devilish appearance. The comet, named 12P/Pons-Brooks, is expected to be visible to the naked eye in 2024 when it reaches its closest point to the sun.

12P/Pons-Brooks is a periodic comet that orbits the sun in an elliptical path that takes about 71 years to complete. It was discovered in 1812 by French astronomer Jean-Louis Pons and observed again in 1883 by American astronomer William Brooks. The comet has a large nucleus of about 18 to 25 miles across, surrounded by a tenuous cloud of dust and gas called the coma.

Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks: A Devilish Visitor from Outer Space
Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks: A Devilish Visitor from Outer Space

Why does it look like a devil?

The comet has been unusually bright and active compared to other comets, due to two major eruptions that occurred in July and October this year. These outbursts ejected large amounts of material from the nucleus, creating a spectacular display of light and shape. According to some observers, the coma developed two pointed beams of light that resembled horns, giving the comet a devilish look. Others compared the shape to the Millennium Falcon spacecraft from Star Wars.

How rare are these outbursts?

Outbursts are not very common in comets; they happen only about 3-4 per cent of the time. They are caused by various factors, such as thermal stress, rotational instability, collisions, or sublimation of volatile substances. When an outburst occurs, the particles travel away from the nucleus and become diluted over time. However, in the case of 12P/Pons-Brooks, the large nucleus casts a shadow over the coma, creating a hollowed-out shape and horns.

When will it be visible?

The comet will reach its perihelion, or closest point to the sun, on April 21, 2024. It will then pass by Earth on June 2, 2024, at a distance of about 62 million miles. Depending on the conditions, the brightness of the comet will make it visible to people even without a telescope. However, it will not pose any threat to Earth or its inhabitants.

When will it return?

The comet will continue its journey around the sun and will not be seen again until 2095. It is one of the few comets that are classified as Halley-like, meaning that they have orbital periods between 20 and 200 years. The most famous example of this type is Halley’s Comet, which has an orbital period of 76 years and will return in 2061.

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