May 19, 2024

Where and when to see 12P/Pons-Brooks in the sky

It's farther from the Sun – but you can still see it in the dark: Every 70 years or so, Comet 12 P/Pons-Brooks can be seen from Earth back in its orbit for some time, as it is currently. According to amateur astronomer Michael Jagger, with a little luck, you can even spot it with the naked eye, for example from a mountain.

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Rooftop heaters

“Comets tend to have bursts of brightness,” said Jäger, who photographed the celestial object from Austria in March and says he has already discovered a comet himself. There is a type of geyser on the surface that spews gas and dust, creating a typical shimmering greenish-yellow tail.

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“In general, you can observe the comet well, but you need binoculars,” said Uwe Pilz, president of the Friends of the Stars association based in Bensheim in the southern state of Hesse. “The comet is very low in the evening sky.” To see it, you have to look to the northwest in the evening. “You should start observing when twilight has advanced well but the sky has not yet become completely dark,” Bales explained. “Depending on location in the German-speaking area, this is between 7.30pm and 8pm.” Beginners will have a good chance of finding it by the beginning of April, provided the weather cooperates. It ends for astronomers on April 10.

The comet is 30 kilometers across

The comet, which is likely about 30 kilometers in size, is about 240 million kilometers from our home planet and is therefore farther from the center of our solar system. The coma – a hazy shell surrounding the comet's nucleus – and tail are created when such celestial bodies come close to the Sun during their orbit and heat up. With 12 streams of the B/Bons, the length of the tail is “definitely more than ten million kilometres”, Jäger said.

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Jagger says it can certainly be described as the big brother to Halley's Comet. “This periodic comet is one of the largest periodic comets we know of.” There is speculation in the USA that the solar eclipse on April 8th provides a good opportunity for observation.

The comet's nucleus cannot be seen, but rather the coma and tail. Bills explained that explosions in areas of comet activity can only be identified through specially processed images.

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Comet Pons-Brooks was discovered in July 1812 by Jean-Louis Pons at the Marseille Observatory and rediscovered in 1883 by William Robert Brooks. According to Jagger, it has been seen and documented in the sky for hundreds of years.

Only every 50 thousand years: a green comet appears in the sky at the beginning of March

Astronomers discovered the comet for the first time on March 2, 2022.

Comets come from the cold outer edge of the solar system and are celestial bodies that were not consumed during planet formation. According to the German Aerospace Center, it consists of dust grains, organic molecules, and, due to its low temperature, frozen gases. The high percentage of volatile materials distinguishes it from asteroids. Sometimes gravity or collisions push them out of their original orbit and they then end up near the Sun or Earth.

Comet C/2023 was last seen in the night sky in September last year, having been discovered only a short time before. In February, the green comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was seen during one of its rare encounters with Earth. This celestial body passes by Earth only every 50 thousand years.

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R.N.D./D.A