Astronomy: Comet with shimmering tail seen in the evening sky

It is further away than the sun - but you can still see it in the darkness: Approximately every 70 years, comet 12 P/Pons-Brooks can be seen from Earth again on its orbit for some time, as is currently the case.

Astronomy: Comet with shimmering tail seen in the evening sky

It is further away than the sun - but you can still see it in the darkness: Approximately every 70 years, comet 12 P/Pons-Brooks can be seen from Earth again on its orbit for some time, as is currently the case. According to amateur astronomer Michael Jäger, with a little luck you can even spot it with the naked eye, for example from a mountain.

“The comet tends to have bursts of brightness,” said Jäger, who photographed the celestial body from Austria in March and says he has already discovered a comet himself. There are a kind of geysers on the surface that spew out gas and dust, creating the typical shimmering greenish-yellow tail.

"Overall, you can observe the comet well, but you need binoculars," said the chairman of the Association of Star Friends based in Bensheim in southern Hesse, Uwe Pilz, to the German Press Agency. "The comet is quite low in the evening sky." To see it, you have to look northwest in the evening.

Visibility is best at dusk

“You should start observing when twilight is well advanced but the sky is not yet completely dark,” explained Pilz. "Depending on the location in the German-speaking area, this is between 7.30 p.m. and 8 p.m.." Beginners would have a good chance of finding it by early April, weather permitting. For astronomers it ends on April 10th.

The comet, which is probably around 30 kilometers in size, is around 240 million kilometers from our home planet and therefore further away than the center of our solar system.

The coma - a foggy shell around the comet's nucleus - and the tail arise when such celestial bodies come close to the sun during their orbit and heat up. With 12 P/Pons Brooks, the tail is “certainly over ten million kilometers long,” Jäger told dpa.

Some things cannot be seen with the naked eye

It could certainly be described as the big brother of Halley's Comet, says Jäger. "This periodic comet is among the largest periodic comets we know." In the USA there is speculation that the solar eclipse on April 8th offers a good chance for observation.

It is not the comet nucleus that can be seen, but rather the coma and the tail. The eruptions in the activity areas on the comet can only be recognized in specially processed photos, explained Pilz.

Comet Pons-Brooks was discovered in July 1812 by Jean-Louis Pons at the Marseille Observatory and rediscovered in 1883 by William Robert Brooks. According to Jäger, it had been seen and documented in the sky hundreds of years before.

Extremely far away

Comets come from the outermost, cold edge of the solar system and are celestial bodies that were not consumed during planet formation. According to the German Aerospace Center, they consist of dust grains, organic molecules and, because of their low temperature, frozen gases. The high proportion of volatile matter distinguishes them from asteroids. Gravity or collisions sometimes push them out of their original orbit and then end up near the sun or Earth.

Comet C/2023 was last seen in the night sky in September last year, having only been discovered a short time before. In February, the green comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was seen during one of its rare rendezvous with Earth. This celestial body only passes Earth every 50,000 years.

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