Explosive ‘devil comet’ to return for first time in 71 years during April 8 eclipse, NASA says
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Explosive ‘devil comet’ to return for first time in 71 years during April 8 eclipse, NASA says

A rare and massive comet with a devilish nickname will pass Earth for the first time in 71 years. According to NASA, it may be visible during the much-anticipated total solar eclipse on April 8.

The cryovolcanic comet, officially named Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks, is known as the “devil comet” for its formation of two “horns” of ice and gas and its periodic explosions.

Comets are made up of dust, frozen gases, ice and rocks that were created when the solar system formed, NASA explains.

Explosive ‘devil comet’ to return for first time in 71 years during April 8 eclipse, NASA saysExplosive ‘devil comet’ to return for first time in 71 years during April 8 eclipse, NASA says

IMAGE: Images show the outburst of comet 12P/Pons-Brooks on October 5, 2023, and its path and evolution through October 20, 2023. (Eliot Herman)

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According to NASA, the Devil’s Comet is headed toward its next perihelion pass, when it will reach its closest point to the sun and shine its brightest on April 21. The agency says this astronomical event coincides with a total solar eclipse in North America on April 8, which will cast a shadow over parts of the United States from Texas to Maine as the moon passes between the sun and Earth.

With the sudden fading of sunlight during the total eclipse, skygazers will be treated to a vast sky dark enough to view stars, planets and possibly comet 12P/Pons-Brooks as it travels through the solar system, NASA said.

“Comet 12P’s passage through perihelion on April 21 will occur just two weeks after the April 8 total solar eclipse, causing the comet to appear in Earth’s sky alongside a totally eclipsed Sun,” the agency said.

As it continues its journey through the solar system, comet 12P/Pons-Brooks will make its closest approach to Earth on June 2, providing another opportunity to see the Devil’s Comet. However, its distance from the sun will make it less visible than during the eclipse, experts previously told ABC News.

IMAGE: The images show a tail on comet 12P/Pons-Brooks on Oct. 5, 2023 (left) and the tail was absent on Oct. 7 (right). (Eliot Herman)IMAGE: The images show a tail on comet 12P/Pons-Brooks on Oct. 5, 2023 (left) and the tail was absent on Oct. 7 (right). (Eliot Herman)

IMAGE: The images show a tail on comet 12P/Pons-Brooks on Oct. 5, 2023 (left) and the tail was absent on Oct. 7 (right). (Eliot Herman)

Compared to Halley’s comet, which orbits the Sun for 76 years, 12P/Pons-Brooks is a short-period comet, meaning its orbital period is between 20 and 200 years. The devil’s comet has an orbital period of 71 years and was last seen in 1954.

According to the American Astronomical Society, scientists have estimated that the devil’s comet is at least 17 kilometers, or 10.5 miles, in diameter.

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The comet’s periodic explosions, or “bursts,” make it brighter, easier to see through telescopes and, in some cases, “something people can see from their backyard,” Dr. Theodore Kareta, a postdoctoral researcher at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, previously told ABC News.

According to Space.com, in July 2023, the constellation 12P/Pons-Brooks experienced a major outburst that suddenly made it 100 times brighter, with subsequent periodic outbursts occurring on October 5, November 1, November 14, December 14, and January 18, 2023, respectively.

IMAGE: This July 25, 2023, image shows comet 12P/Pons-Brooks with its “devil horns” after it exploded. (Eliot Herman)IMAGE: This July 25, 2023, image shows comet 12P/Pons-Brooks with its “devil horns” after it exploded. (Eliot Herman)

IMAGE: This July 25, 2023, image shows comet 12P/Pons-Brooks with its “devil horns” after it exploded. (Eliot Herman)

“These outbursts … (brought) this object from being so faint that it could only be seen with large professional telescopes to, in a few cases, something that people can see from their backyards,” Kareta said.

“There aren’t many comets that have outbursts, these sudden bursts of brightness that are that strong, and even fewer that have them multiple times in one orbit. It looks like Pons-Brooks… is just very active,” he continued.

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Dr. Eliot Herman, a retired University of Arizona professor and amateur astronomer who took the remote telescope images of comet 12P/Pons-Brooks, encourages observers to be on the lookout for the Devil’s Comet in the coming months.

“Humans have historically looked to the sky since they first became aware of themselves, and the amazement at events that are happening above us is something that goes back to before civilization,” he previously told ABC News. “I think events in the sky affect everyone in a very historical way. The universe is a huge place and there are so many amazing things happening all around us. It’s worth it to go out there and just look at it and be amazed.”

Explosive ‘devil comet’ returns for first time in 71 years during April 8 eclipse, NASA says originally appeared on abcnews.go.com