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Celestial visitor – Catch the comet Pons-Brooks!

Skywatchers around the world are in for a treat. Comet 12P Pons-Brooks is brightening to an impressive display during the coming weeks. Now at magnitude 6 it is an easy target for even small telescopes, under dark skies it might be visible to the naked eye!

Comet 101:

These celestial wanderers, often referred to as the "snowballs" of space, offer a glimpse into the primordial ingredients of our cosmic neighborhood. A comet, fundamentally, is an icy, small solar system body. When these enigmatic entities venture close to the Sun, they undergo a remarkable transformation known as outgassing. As the Sun's warmth penetrates their icy facade, volatile gases trapped within the comet's nucleus begin to sublimate, creating a luminous halo known as a coma. This coma, an extended atmosphere, is accompanied by a striking tail composed of gas and dust particles blown away from the nucleus by the solar wind.

Comet nuclei vary significantly in size, ranging from a few hundred meters to tens of kilometers across. Composed of a delicate balance of ice, dust, and rocky particles, these nuclei serve as the cosmic crucibles from which comets derive their mystique. The coma, at times, can stretch up to 15 times the diameter of Earth, while the tail may extend even farther, reaching beyond one astronomical unit.

Orbital charateristics:

One of the most intriguing aspects of comets is their highly eccentric elliptical orbits. Unlike the predictable paths traced by planets, comets follow trajectories that defy conventional expectations.

Short-period comets, originating from the Kuiper belt or scattered disc beyond Neptune's orbit, return to the inner solar system within a few years. In contrast, long-period comets, believed to originate from the Oort cloud, embark on journeys that span potentially millions of years, influenced by gravitational perturbations from passing stars and the galactic tide.

In recent years, advancements in space exploration have allowed scientists to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding comets. Missions such as Rosetta, which successfully orbited and deployed a lander on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, have provided unprecedented glimpses into the composition and behavior of these cosmic wanderers.
Despite their ethereal beauty, comets also serve as invaluable cosmic time capsules. Preserving remnants of the early solar system, including pristine ice and organic compounds, these celestial visitors offer insights into the conditions that prevailed during the formation of our planetary neighborhood billions of years ago.

12P Pons-Brooks – brightening for an unforgettable display?

This particular comet is one of the major interests of amateur astronomers as it is capable of erruptions that cause a sudden burst of brightness. Should one happen during the near future, this comet could turn out to be easily visible to the naked eye. These bursts are caused by build up of pressure in the comets nucleus as ice is sublimated to gas, as it is approaching the sun for perihelion in April 21st. It is also possible that the comet is visible during the total solar eclipse in USA on April 8th.

12P Pons-Brooks is currently visible near the Andromeda galaxy

12P Pons-Brooks is referred as Halley-type comet, this means that the orbital perioid of the comet is between 20-200 years. This comet fits in the middle of that timeline with an orbital period of 71 years. Most of us wont be here to see the comet ever again so now it is the time to venture outside and look for this celestial visitor!