Observe comet 12p/Pons-Brooks now     

New comets with unusual behavior are constantly making the headlines. However, an "old acquaintance" is currently approaching with powerful show effects.

Comet 12p/Pons-Brooks has an orbital period around the sun of 71 years and was observed probably in China around 700 years ago. It is currently approaching its closest point to the sun again, which it will reach on April 21st, 2024. It will be closest to the Earth on June 2nd, 2024 before disappearing into the outer reaches of the solar system for another 71 years.

As it slowly heats up while approaching the sun, the comet has shown several outbursts of brightness in recent months, which experts explain as ice volcanism (cryovolcanism). During this process, ice heats up under the surface, sublimates (becomes gaseous), expands and breaks through the surface in an eruption. In the process, dust and even more ice is carried away, the comet's coma expands and it becomes brighter. The comet is currently at 9m and is therefore visible and easy to photograph in small amateur telescopes with an aperture of approx. 10cm or more. Here you can find a finder chart, the comet is ideally located near the bright star Vega in Lyra https://theskylive.com/12p-info

12P showed a "black stripe" in its coma during the last eruptions, so that it somewhat resembled the famous "Millenium Falcon" from Star Wars. In the latest outburst a few days ago, it changed its appearance again. As the images by Michael Jäger show, a curved black stripe and a light stripe are visible. There is also a "knot" which could be an area of dense dust or a broken-off piece of the comet. 

Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks with wandering knot of matter on November 18 and 20, 23, taken with a Newton 14" & QHY 600, © Michael Jäger

Be that as it may, this activity makes us sit up and take notice, because such an outburst near the sun would probably make the comet easily visible to the naked eye. Barely two weeks before the closest approach to the sun, on April 8th, 2024, there is also the possibility of seeing it with the naked eye during the total solar eclipse in the USA. But even before that, it will be an interesting observation object for binoculars, small telescopes and certainly also a nice photo object for astrophotographers. It is worth keeping an eye on comet Pons-Brooks from now on, the chances of further large outbursts of brightness in the coming weeks and months are not bad!

12P/Pons-Brooks 2023 nov. 20 16.50 UT 20min RGB 1x1bin 14"/4.2 QHY600, © Michael Jäger

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About the author: Michael Risch

Michael Risch

Michael has been interested in astronomy and spaceflight, since he saw the last moon landing as a child. In 1981, he became a member of the Association of Amateur Astronomers in the Saarland and, as a member of the board, accompanied the establishment of the Peterberg Observatory. As co-founder and first webmaster of www.astronomie.de, he contributed numerous ideas and reports on astronomical and spaceflight topics to the first German astronomy portal. He has been practicing planetary, comets, solar, deep sky as well as TWAN style photography, and has been on many long distance trips, among others to 7 total solar eclipses. As a long-time science editor, he has led "Northern lights and stars" trips to the Arctic Circle. Michael has published many of his own photos and articles in professional journals and has written chapters for the books chapters for the books Fotoschule (Photo School) and Extremfotografie (Extreme Photography) with his colleague Martin Rietze for "Color Foto".

At Baader-Planetarium he is part of the observatory project team and is booked for lectures in Germany and abroad. Furthermore, he is an expert consultant for observatories, domes, high end mounts, telescopes and much more.


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