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Sunday date: 'Devil' comet 12P/Pons-Brooks arrives closest to Earth after 71 years

IANS | April 21, 2024 10:50 AM

MUMBAI:The periodical comet, named '12P/Pons-Brooks' will finally reach closest to greet Earth on Sunday, as it hurtles towards the sun on its return journey after 71 years, thrilling the Indian and global scientific community.

The celestial visitor, also nicknamed 'Devil Comet' has been affording its glimpses to humanity since early March, appearing as a bright, tiny spot that was captured on cameras by some astronomers from India, said scientist and Founder-Secretary of Amateur Astronomers Association (Mumbai), Bharat Adur.

"From tomorrow, the comet will start its 'perihelion passage', meaning its closest point to the sun when it will shine the brightest. Then it will approach Earth till about 232 million km by June, when it will be visible from many parts of the world, but would appear fainter, " said Adur to IANS.

He shared an exclusive photo by Ashish Shinojha, an amateur astronomer, who trudged out to the stark barren land of the Kachchh district of Gujarat this week, to capture the sky visitor in its full glory.

The 12P/Pons-Brooks comet is estimated to be bigger than Mt. Everest (8.84 km tall), and as per scientific experts' calculations in a 2020 research paper, the chunks of ice and rocks were nearly 17 km across, or more than double the world's tallest mountain.

It has a nucleus estimated to be around 30 km in diameter and everything zooms in space at mind-boggling speeds of 26, 000 km/hour, with the streak increasing as it approaches the sun.

The inter-galactic visitor is actually a cold, active cryovolcanic comet, zipping through the skies and has earned a wicked nickname -- the 'Devil Comet' -- since it periodically explodes violently, releases 'cryo-magma' comprising billions of kg of ice, water, and gases (meteoric shower) that give it an irregular shape resembling a Devil's horns.

In fact, in the last week of December 2023, the 12P/Pons-Brooks suddenly caught attention after a series of violent explosions rocked it and let off the 'meteor showers', very far away from Earth.

Adur urged the people, especially the youth to scan the skies, on the western horizon in the Aries Constellation, after sunset till around 8:15 p.m. and avail a 'darshan' of the comet, "as its next visit to the solar system will be only in August 2095".

He added that as per the StarWalk app, the 12P/Pons-Brooks was last witnessed at perihelion on May 22, 1954, and later, humanity witnessed and wowed at the electrifying Halley's Comet (1986) spectacle in the skies.

Among the brightest known periodic comets, the '12P/Pons-Brooks' was first discovered in July 1812 by astronomer Jean-Louis Pons, and later by William Robert Brooks in 1883, during its return journey to the solar system, though there were several other astronomers credited with sighting it around the world in the past eight centuries.

"This is truly a historical, once-in-a-lifetime astronomical spectacle… Nobody currently living on Earth may recall having seen the 12P/Pons-Brooks back in 1954, and hardly anybody will live to witness it on its next interplanetary journey in 2095, " smiled Adur.

Aiming to bequeath the legacy of viewing the '12P/Pons-Brooks' stellar voyage for future generations, the AAA (Mumbai) has conducted a series of awareness campaigns for the people, instructions on when, where, and how to view the comet, photography-videography, scientific discussions, academic competitions, and other activities, especially for the students and youth, said Adur.

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