This comet with horns is once again resuming its volcanic activity!

2023-11-14 17:19:52

For the third time since this summer, astronomersastronomers report a sudden increase in the brightnessluminosity of comet 12P/Pons-Brooks, making it shine this past November 2 with a magnitude 12 in the constellation Hercules. Signs of gas emission, resulting from its heating as it approaches the Sun.

Cryovolcanic eruptions which increase its luminosity

First spotted in 1812 by the French astronomer Jean-Louis Pons, then rediscovered in 1883 by the American astronomer William Robert Brooks, 12P/Pons-Brooks is a so-called periodic comet, that is to say it completes a complete orbitorbit (or revolution) in a relatively regular time interval. Like every 71 years or so, it is about to reach its closest point to the Sun, which tends to warm it up as it approaches our star.

As it heats up, the icy core of the comet sublimates, going from a solid state to a gaseous state. We then speak of cryovolcanic activity: the gases make their way towards the surface of the comet and escape towards space, forming a trail of gas and dust behind it which suddenly increases its luminosity. In the case of comet 12P/Pons-Brooks, the brightness increased almost 100-fold in just a few days! Its horned monster appearance seems to be due to the irregular shape of its core.

Unpredictable cryovolcanic activity

As it approaches the point in its orbit closest to the Sun – perihelionperihelion, which it will reach in spring 2024 – cryovolcanic activity can be expected to resume again. But its activity is difficult to predict, and amateur astronomers keep their telescopes trained on this visitor.

After reaching its perihelion, 12P/Pons-Brooks will once again return to the confines of the Solar SystemSolar System, with a maximum distance from the Sun (or apheliaaphelion) of 33.8 astronomical unitsastronomical units, i.e. beyond the orbit of NeptuneNeptune. It will reach perihelion again in 2094. You can follow the evolution of the comet live using the guide The Sky Guideas well as its current position in our Solar System.

Article by Nathalie MayerNathalie Mayer, published on October 17, 2023

Last July, comet P12/Pons-Brooks attracted the attention of astronomers by suddenly gaining in brightness. The result of an eruption, the researchers then explained. And now she has just done it again. Once again, she has adorned herself with funny ice horns that make her look like the Millennium Falcon.

The comet P12/Pons-Brooks had already made waves this summer. As it continued quietly towards Earth – it should reach its closest point to the Sun in April 2024 – its brightness suddenly increased dramatically. The cause was an explosion that occurred on its surface.

Repeated eruptions on the cryovolcanic comet

Or rather we should talk about an eruption. Because comet P12/Pons-Brooks is what astronomers call a cryovolcanic comet. It can erupt when the Sun warms its core. The pressurepressure then rises until an ice cloud is ejected into space through cracks in the comet’s crust.

This is what happened to P12/Pons-Brooks last July. And once again this October 5, announced researchers of the British Astronomical Association. After another flare, astronomers noted that the comet had become dozens of times brighter. In the days that followed, she found herself once again adorned with some kind of horns.

Horns due to an irregular shape of the comet

The researchers believe that the particular shape that comet P12/Pons-Brooks takes at the time of these eruptions – a shape which is necessarily reminiscent of that of the Millennium Falcon of Star Wars — is due to an irregularity in the shape of its nucleus. During the July eruption, its comacoma had thus expanded until it reached 7,000 times the size of said nucleus. And, even if the numbers are not yet in, this eruption seems to have been twice as intense.

As it moves closer and closer to our Sun, comet P12/Pons-Brooks is expected to experience more flares of this kind.

The Millennium Falcon photographed in space? No, a giant comet that exploded!

Article by Dorian Schaepmeester on 30/07/2023

An unexpected event has surprised astronomers observing the Dragon constellationDragon constellation over the past few days. Comet P12/Pons-Brooks experiences a sudden increase in its brightness, possibly due to an explosion: the halo of the star is now adorned with a pair of luminous “horns”.

A “comet with horns”. This is the nickname given by the Anglo-Saxon media to comet 12P/Pons-Brooks since July 19. On that day, astronomers around the world watched an explosion on the surface of the celestial body, greatly and suddenly increasing its brightness. The event took place on the cometary nucleus of 12P/Pons-Brooks, with a diameter of 34 by 12 kilometers (i.e. dimensions similar to Halley’s cometHalley’s comet). Its brilliance increased, surpassing its usual average by five times. Internet users, thanks to the Virtual Telescope project, have photographed the comet: the latter now presents a particularity, the highlight forming two sharp asperities, similar to horns. Crossing the Solar System and currently lying 3.9 astronomical units (about 448 million kilometers), well beyond Mars, the apparent magnitude of 12P/Pons-Brooks dropped from 16.6 to 11.6 during of the explosion. Maintaining a magnitude of 11.6, the comet remains invisible to the naked eye. She is nevertheless perceptible with an astronomical telescope or telescope.

Imminent approach to the edge of the Earth

Possibly observed in the 14th and 15th centuries, P12/Pons-Brooks was formally identified by the French astronomer Jean-Louis Pons in 1812. With an elliptical trajectory, the orbital periodorbital period of the comet is 71 years. In April 2024, it should reach perihelion, its closest point to the Sun. It will approach the vicinity of Earth a few days later: it will then potentially be visible in the night sky, hypothetically reaching a magnitude of 4.5.

Notice to astronomers in the northern hemisphere, P12/Pons-Brooks is currently located in the “head” of the Dragon constellation, near Ursa Minor. Given its low magnitude, the comet is only visible with powerful telescopes. For the most patient, you will have to wait eleven months to admire the object which will illuminate the celestial vault for a few days, from April to June 2024.

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