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A rare ‘devil comet’ will reach peak brightness this weekend. Here’s how you can see it.

In World
April 21, 2024

On Sunday, the “devil comet” — a celestial phenomenon that has not happened since the 1950s — will be most visible as it approaches the sun.

The comet, also known as the 12P/Pons-Brooks or “Mother of Dragons comet,” will reach its perihelion, the closest point to the big star, according to Live Science.

Pons-Brooks, a frozen green ball of ice, dust and rocks, is 10.5 miles wide and will be about 144 million miles away from the sun. Here’s how skygazers can catch the rare spectacle.

🔭 How you can view the devil comet

For now, the sky show can only be seen in the Northern Hemisphere.

While there is a slim chance you can view the comet with the naked eye as it gets closer to the sun, NASA said that the devil comet is better viewed with a set of binoculars or a small telescope.

Space.com recommends looking for a “circular, wispy patch of light” with a slightly visible gas tail pointing up and to the left of the comet’s bright head.

NASA advises sky gazers to wait until the sun sets. Look West beneath the moon, and to the right of Jupiter and you should be able to catch a glimpse of the comet.

If you wait until an hour after sunset, Pons-Brooks dips and could be difficult to view. The comet then sets the next hour, NASA added.

On June 2, Pons-Brooks will make its closest approach to Earth, but by that time, you’ll only be able to view it if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere.

☄️ When was the last time the comet was observed?

Sightings of the devil comet are rare and considered a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. According to Live Science, the comet finishes its orbit around the sun once every 71 years.

The short-period comet — which means its orbital period lasts between 20 and 200 years — was last seen between 1953 and 1954 during its last passage, the American Astronomical Society reported.

“The last time people were [observing] it, they were doing it with photographic plates, they were doing it with binoculars, they were doing it with their eyes,” Theodore Kareta, a postdoctoral researcher at Lowell Observatory in Arizona, told ABC News.

👿 What makes this comet so special?

Pons-Brooks is known as a cryovolcanic or cold volcanic comet, which is a rare type of comet due to its frequent illuminating eruptions.

In July 2023, it was dubbed the “devil comet” when a major eruption within the comet caused its body to emit an asymmetrical horn-like appearance. The horns are made up of gas, ice and periodic explosions.

“These outbursts … [have] brought this object from being dim enough that you can only really see it with big professional telescopes to, in a couple of cases, something people can see from their backyard,” Kareta said.

“There aren’t that many comets that have outbursts, these sudden increases in brightness, that are so strong, and even fewer that have them a couple of times during one orbit,” Kareta continued.

The outburst caused the comet to appear 100 times brighter, according to Space.com.

There were five periodic explosions between October 2023 and January 2024.

But Pons-Brooks has lost its devil horns since moving through the solar system and losing a piece of ice that created the horn effect, Live Science said.

“The horns have gone away now,” Bill Cooke, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment program manager, told the New York Times. “It looks more like the typical comet people envision.”

After Pons-Brooks completes its orbit this time around, the next chance to catch a glimpse of it will be in the summer of 2095, according to Space.com.

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