On July 20, the comet captured the attention of several astronomers when it suddenly brightened around 100 times its normal appearance.
In an extraordinary celestial display, Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks, also known as a cryovolcanic comet, has sprouted what appear to be “horns” following a gigantic eruption. An event that hasn’t been witnessed for nearly seven decades, this comet’s transformation offers a glimpse into a rarely seen cosmic phenomenon.
The Awakening of a Celestial Behemoth
The cryovolcanic comet known as 12P/Pons-Brooks has exploded into the limelight after a colossal eruption, presenting the silhouette of a space-bound demon. The comet has not been seen erupting in such a manner for almost 70 years.
What Makes 12P Unique?
Unlike other comets, 12P comprises a solid core filled with a blend of ice, dust, and gas. It’s encircled by a loose cloud of gas called a coma, which oozes from its insides. The gas and ice in 12P’s core can accumulate to such an extent that it may cause a forceful explosion, propelling the cryomagma out through massive fissures in its core’s shell.
On July 20, the comet captured the attention of several astronomers when it suddenly brightened around 100 times its normal appearance, as reported by Spaceweather.com. This surge in illumination happened when the coma swelled with gas and ice crystals from the comet’s interior, reflecting more sunlight back to Earth.
Richard Miles, an astronomer with the British Astronomical Association specializing in cryovolcanic comets, remarked that the comet’s coma expanded to about 230,000 kilometers wide, more than 7,000 times its nucleus’ width. The irregular shape of the coma gives the appearance of the comet having horns, leading some experts to liken the distorted comet to the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars.
The Notch Effect
Miles explained that the unique shape of the coma could be due to a lobe obstructing the escaping gas, creating a “notch” in the expanded coma. As the gas moved away, the notch or “shadow” became more pronounced but will eventually vanish as the gas and ice dissipate.
This marks the first significant detected eruption of 12P in 69 years. The comet’s orbit is so remote from Earth that its eruptions are usually unnoticeable.
12P’s Long Journey and Future Sightings
With one of the longest known orbital periods, 12P takes about 71 years to complete a full orbit around the sun. Its closest approach to the sun will occur on April 21, 2024, and to Earth on June 2, 2024. This presents a rare opportunity for stargazers to potentially witness more eruptions in the coming years.
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