The massive ‘devil comet’ exploded for the fourth time on Tuesday, releasing the largest outburst of bright light yet.
An astronomer captured the event in an image hours after it began, revealing Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks’ atmosphere as a perfect circle.
The space rock is about 18 miles in diameter and is described as a ‘cold volcano’ because it violently ejects ice and gas.
12P/Pons-Brooks abruptly brightened more than 100-fold to shine as bright as the Elliptical Galaxy 600 million light years from Earth.
The comet has been described as the ‘devil comet’ due to two ‘horns’ that appeared during previous outbursts as it races toward Earth.
However, astronomers did not spot signs of a dark lane in the coma and believe horns may not sprout this time around.
12P/Pons-Brooks abruptly brightened more than 100-fold to shine as bright as the Elliptical Galaxy 600 million light years from Earth
Arizona-based Elliot Herman has been tracking the comet, sharing on Thursday in a post that reads: ‘Comet 12P appears to be manifesting more frequent outbursts, a new outburst only two weeks from the prior outburst is now apparent.
‘This new outburst is the fourth since the July outburst began the show. Gaps due to cloudy nights.’
Comets consist of a nucleus of ice, dust, and small rocky particles, surrounded by an outer ‘coma’ – a hazy cloud of gases.
12P/Pons-Brooks is known as a cryovolcanic – or cold volcano – comet, which exhibits volcanic activity.
But instead of spewing out molten rock and lava like a volcano on Earth, a cryovolcanic comet releases a mixture of gases and ice.
When a cryovolcanic comet gets closer to the sun – like 12P/Pons-Brooks is doing – it heats up and builds pressure in the nucleus.
The pressure builds until nitrogen and carbon monoxide explode and fling out icy debris through large cracks in the nucleus’s shell.
These gaseous streams can form distinctive shapes when viewed through a telescope, such as devil horns, also described as a horseshoe or the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars.
The massive ‘devil comet’ exploded for the fourth time on Tuesday, releasing the largest outburst of bright light yet. The comet has had previous outbursts on July 20, October 5 and November 1
12P/Pons-Brooks abruptly brightened more than 100-fold to shine as bright as the Elliptical Galaxy (pictured) 600 million light years from Earth
Herman has been tracking the comet, which had previous outbursts on July 20, October 5 and November 1.
‘This comet has been widely reported in the news as the “devil comet” due to two prior outbursts that produced a devil with horns appearance,’ Herman said following the November 1 outburst.
‘On Halloween, the devil burst forth again with a large outburst that continued into the next day.’
The comet’s name stems from two astronomers who discovered it – Jean-Louis Pons and William Robert Brooks.
Pons first identified it in 1812 and Brooks again in 1883, determining the devil comet returns to our solar system every 71 years.
‘Since the 19th century, at least seven significant outbursts have been observed, SpaceWeather reports.
‘2023 is on pace to match that number in one year alone.’
The comet is set to reach its closest point in its orbit to Earth in June 2024, but it will pass by at a safe distance.
After making its closest approach to out planet, the space rock will be gravitationally flung back to the outer solar system and will not return until 2095.