The colossal, cryovolcanic “devil comet,” three times larger than Mount Everest, has experienced yet another explosive event as it makes its way toward Earth. The comet, also known as 12P/Pons-Brooks, earned its nickname after two devil-like horns appeared during previous outbursts.
According to experts, the devil comet became as bright as the Elliptical Galaxy – which is located 600 million light years from Earth.
Eliot Herman, an amateur astronomer based 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, approximately 18 miles in diameter, is notorious for its violent ejections of ice and gas. This activity created the trail that resembled devil horns, making it a fascinating spectacle in space.
Discovered in 1812, 12P/Pons-Brooks is on a trajectory that will bring it closest to Earth in June 2024. Despite its proximity, it poses no threat to our planet. 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 made up of an icy nucleus surrounded by a coma – a cloud of gas and dust. Its classification as a cryovolcanic comet indicates that it exhibits volcanic behavior.
However, instead of ejecting molten rock, it releases gasses and ice, particularly when nearing the sun. As the comet approaches the sun, the increase in temperature and pressure leads to explosive releases of nitrogen and carbon monoxide, pushing out icy fragments from the nucleus.
Herman had previously observed a dramatic brightening of the comet on October 31, indicating a fresh burst of cryovolcanic activity. That outburst marked the second in a month and the third since July.
12P/Pons-Brooks orbits the sun, attracted by its gravitational pull, and completes this journey in 71 years. This period is relatively short compared to most comets, which may take thousands of years to orbit the sun.
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. As they near the sun, their speed increases significantly.
Currently, the devil comet is hurtling towards the sun at over 40,000 miles per hour. This 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. After this encounter, the comet will be propelled back to the outer solar system, not returning until 2095.
More about comets
Comets offer a fascinating insight into the early solar system and the origins of life. These celestial bodies primarily consist of frozen gases, rock, and dust.
As a comet approaches the Sun, its ice warms and…