Written by: Sam Orlando
STAUNTON, VIRGINIA - In an interstellar phenomenon, a comet with two distinct "horns" made up of gas and ice is making its way through the inner solar system. This celestial visitor, dubbed the "devil comet" due to its unique appearance, promises a spectacular display for enthusiasts and could be visible to the naked eye by spring of next year.
Comet 12/P Pons-Brooks, the comet's official name, is on a 71-year trajectory around our sun. As the comet makes its celestial journey, it will be closest to the sun on April 21, 2024, a point referred to as its perihelion. Not long after, on June 2, it will be at its nearest position to Earth. Astronomers are optimistic that, given clear skies and minimal light pollution, the comet will shine bright enough to be observed without any telescopic aid.
While it may only become visible to the general population in the coming months, the comet has been a remarkable sight for those equipped with high-powered telescopes. It has notably erupted twice within the last four months, first in July and then again recently.
Following these eruptions, the comet displayed a significant increase in brightness and released a cloud of icy debris, which took on the appearance of two horns. Some observers even remarked that its appearance bore a resemblance to the iconic Millennium Falcon from "Star Wars."
Capturing the comet's mesmerizing "devil horns," Eliot Herman, a retired professor from the University of Arizona's School of Plant Sciences and an astronomy enthusiast, has documented this cosmic display using telescopes stationed in Utah. Delving into the structure of the comet, Herman explained that its core consists of a blend of dust, gas, and ice, encapsulated by a radiant gas cloud, termed a coma. The distinctive horns are believed to arise from icy eruptions on the comet's core. However, the exact mechanism behind this phenomenon remains elusive. "There's a significant interest in the community to unravel this mystery," Herman communicated to NBC News.
A historical perspective reveals that Comet 12/P Pons-Brooks isn't a new discovery. It was first spotted in 1812 by French astronomer Jean-Louis Pons and revisited in 1883 by William Brooks. Following its anticipated rendezvous in the spring, it will embark on its journey back to the outer realms of the solar system, not to return for another seven decades.
An exciting confluence awaits as the comet's arrival aligns with a total solar eclipse scheduled for April 8, 2024. "The confluence of the eclipse with the comet's proximity to the sun presents a unique opportunity. While numerous comets get captured by the NASA SOHO space probe, observing one close to the sun with the naked eye is a rarity. The upcoming eclipse could offer that rare chance," Herman elucidated, indicating his plans to be in Texas to capture this celestial marvel.
As for spectators in the Shenandoah Valley, experts say the phenomenon should be visible across the Eastern United States, weather permitting.
This unique alignment of events underscores the ever-evolving and wondrous nature of our universe, inviting us all to look up and marvel.