July 26, 2023

from SpaceWeather Website









Until a few days ago, Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks looked like a perfectly ordinary comet. Then, something on its surface exploded...


Now it resembles,

"the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy"... the Millennium Falcon...

These images are hot off the press (July 25.434) from the Comet Chasers, a team of researchers led by Helen Usher of Cardiff/The Open Universities.





They are using telescopes at the Las Cumbres Observatory network to monitor this comet's unusual eruption.

The action began on July 20th when the comet abruptly brightened 100-fold.

Astronomers watched as double plumes of debris streamed out of the comet's core, sweeping back to form the Falcon shape.

It is now shining with about the same brightness as an 11th magnitude star, making it an easy target for mid-sized backyard telescopes.

Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks is famous for exploding.


Discovered in 1812 by Pons and discovered again in 1883 by Brooks, the bursty comet visits the inner solar system every 71 years. Since the 19th century at least seven significant outbursts have been observed.

At the Astronomical Station Vidojevica in Serbia, astronomers Igor Smolić and Marco Grazdanovic took a closer look using the station's big 1.4 meter telescope:




"This is a 60x30s exposure," says Smolić.


"[It reveals the origin of the 'horns' curving out of the comet's compact core]."

Richard Miles of the British Astronomical Association thinks 12P may be one of 10 to 20 known comets with active ice volcanoes.


The "magma" is a cold mixture of liquid hydrocarbons and dissolved gasses, all trapped beneath a surface which has the consistency of wax. These bottled-up volatiles love to explode when sunlight opens a fissure.

The best may be yet to come. The comet is currently beyond the orbit of Mars, but falling toward the sun for a close encounter in April 2024.

At that time it is expected to become a naked-eye object at 4th or 5th magnitude.


The timing is significant because 12P will reach maximum brightness only a few days before the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.

Sky watchers in the path of totality could look up and see an outburst for themselves.

Amateur astronomers are encouraged to monitor developments.

Comet 12P is currently crossing the head of Draco not far from the north celestial pole.


Check out those horns!