A city-size comet is racing toward Earth and will reach the closest point on April 21, 2024.
The comet which goes by the name 12P/Pons-Brooks, and it is a special kind of comet known as a cryovolcanic comet or cold volcano comet, has exploded once again only four months after its first explosion while racing toward the sun. Much like before, this explosion produced a cloud that resembled a huge pair of horns.
It has a solid center that measures about 18.6 miles (30 kilometers) across and contains a mixture of ice, dust, and gas called cryomagma. Around this solid core, there is a hazy cloud of gas called a coma, which escapes from the inside of the comet, reported Live Science.
When the sun’s rays warm up the inside of the comet, it causes pressure to build up, leading to a forceful explosion. This explosion hurls the icy material out into space through cracks in the comet’s hard outer shell.
On October 5th, astronomers observed a significant outburst from 12P. The comet became much brighter because of the extra light reflecting from its larger gas cloud. This discovery was made by the British Astronomical Association (BAA), an organization that closely watches over the comet.
‘Peculiar horns’ of the 12P comet racing toward Earth
In the following days, the cloud around the comet kept getting bigger and formed those “peculiar horns,” as reported by Spaceweather.com.
Some experts even made jokes that the unusual shape of the cloud causes the comet to resemble a spaceship from a science fiction story, according to Live Science.
Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks looking really great last night in a clear dark sky! Coma now much enlarged with a highly condensed bright nuclear region. pic.twitter.com/VvDFnECq1I
— David Strange (@dgs99) October 15, 2023
The comet’s odd shape is probably due to the comet’s solid center, which isn’t perfectly round. An astronomer named Richard Miles from BAA explained this after the comet’s last explosion.
He explained that a part of the nucleus sticks out like a notch and blocks some of the gas that is shooting out to an extent. As the gas spreads out from the comet, this notch makes the unusual shape of the cloud even clearer and easier to see.
12P will reach its closest point to Earth in 2024
Right now, comet 12P is racing towards the inner part of our solar system. It is on a path that will take it close to the sun, following its circular orbit that goes around our star every seventy-one years. This is similar to what the green comet Nishimura did on September 17th, reported Live Science.
On April 21, 2024, 12P will come closest to Earth. At that time, it might become visible without the need for any special tools to see it. Afterward, it will return back to the outer part of the solar system and won’t be back until the year 2095.