The massive cryovolcanic “devil comet,” known as 12P/Pons-Brooks, has recently undergone another explosive event as it travels toward Earth. This comet, three times larger than Mount Everest, earned its nickname due to the appearance of devil-like horns during previous outbursts.
Just two days ago, the comet exploded for the fourth time, with experts noting that it experienced its largest outburst yet, brightening by more than 100 times. It became as bright as the Elliptical Galaxy, located 600 million light years from Earth.
Eliot Herman, an amateur astronomer in Arizona, has been tracking the cryovolcanic comet. He shared in a post: “Comet 12P appears to be manifesting more frequent outbursts, a new outburst only two weeks from the prior outburst is now apparent.”
This “cold volcano” comet, around 18 miles in diameter, is known for its violent ejections of ice and gas, which created the trail resembling devil horns, making it a captivating spectacle in space.
Discovered in 1812, 12P/Pons-Brooks is on a trajectory that will bring it closest to Earth in June 2024, though it poses no threat. During this approach, it will be visible as a faint, star-like object with a distinct tail, even to the naked eye.
Comets like 12P/Pons-Brooks are composed of an icy nucleus surrounded by a coma – a cloud of gas and dust. Its classification as a cryovolcanic comet indicates its volcanic behavior.
However, instead of ejecting molten rock, it releases gasses and ice, particularly when nearing the sun, leading to explosive releases of nitrogen and carbon monoxide.
Herman observed a dramatic brightening of the comet on October 31, marking the second outburst in a month and the third since July.
The devil comet orbits the sun, attracted by its gravitational pull, and completes this journey in 71 years – a relatively short period compared to most comets.
Highly elliptical orbits
Comets like 12P/Pons-Brooks have highly elliptical orbits, bringing them close to the sun at perihelion and far away at aphelion, leading to a significant increase in speed as they near the sun.
Currently hurtling towards the sun at over 40,000 miles per hour, the devil comet’s speed is expected to increase to over 100,000 miles per hour as it approaches its perihelion. Its closest encounter with the sun will occur on April 21 next year, followed by a close approach to Earth on June 2.
More about comets
Comets provide insight into the early solar system and the origins of life, as they consist of frozen gases, rock, and dust.
As comets approach the Sun, their ice warms and vaporizes, releasing gas and dust to form a glowing head known as the coma, along with characteristic tails.
Life’s building blocks
Astronomers believe that comets are remnants from the early solar system, formed over 4.5 billion years ago, mainly consisting of water ice, along with frozen carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, and ammonia.
Types of comets
There are two types of comets: short-period comets with orbits lasting less than 200 years, often originating from the Kuiper Belt, and long-period comets with orbits extending over 200 years, thought to come from the Oort Cloud.
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