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Search for “Demonic Comet” now and during the total eclipse

Search for “Demonic Comet” now and during the total eclipse

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An unusual horned comet known for a series of recent outbursts will be visible in the night sky for the remainder of March – and astronomers expect the so-called Devil's Comet to make a rare appearance during March. Total solar eclipse on April 8.

Exactly why a dynamic comet takes on the shape that has led to comparisons with the Millennium Falcon spacecraft from the “Star Wars” films when it is explosively active remains a mystery to scientists. But this celestial body completes only one orbit around the sun about every 71 years, similar to Halley's Comet, making its prospects for close observation a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Given that the comet will not pass near Earth again for decades, astronomers' collective observations could provide key insights into the true nature and behavior of Pons Brooks.

Officially known as Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks, the celestial body will make its closest pass from the Sun on April 21, at a distance of 74.4 million miles (119.7 million km). From our star. The comet will then pass its closest approach to Earth on June 2, but it will be 139.4 million miles (224.4 million kilometers) from our planet and pose no danger.

For those in the Northern Hemisphere, the last 10 days of March will provide the best viewing, according to Dr. Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, and Davide Farnocchia, a navigation engineer, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2018. Pasadena, USA California.

“The comet will brighten slightly as it approaches the Sun, and should be visible to the naked eye in the west about an hour after sunset,” according to a joint email from Chodas and Farnocchia. “You should go somewhere away from city lights and with an unobstructed view of the western horizon. It would be advisable to use a pair of binoculars, because it may be difficult to locate the comet without them.”

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After April 2, the comet will be on its way to move into the daytime sky and will no longer be visible to night sky watchers, but it will be visible when the moon's shadow temporarily obscures the face of the sun from view on April 8.

“The comet will be about 25 degrees from the eclipsed Sun,” Chodas and Varnocchia said via email. “It should be fairly easy to find the comet during a total solar eclipse, as well as a number of planets, but the main focus during those four minutes should be on eclipse Itself!”

After the comet reaches its closest point to the sun, known as perihelion, in late April, the celestial body will shift into the southern night sky and will only be visible to those in the southern hemisphere.

Two prolific discoverers, Jean-Louis Pons and William Robert Brooks, independently observed Devil's Comet for the first time in 1812. But it is likely that the comet made many trips around the sun over thousands of years, long before astronomers believed that comets were any thing else. “There's something strange in the atmosphere,” said Dr. Dave Schleicher, an astronomer at Lowell Observatory in Arizona.

Astronomers estimate that the diameter of the massive comet ranges from 6.2 to 12.4 miles (10 to 20 kilometers), said astronomer Dr. Teddy Carretta, a postdoctoral fellow at Lowell Observatory.

The rare visitor has a green appearance typical of most comets because it contains diatomic carbon molecules that absorb sunlight and emit a color that appears green from our perspective, Schleicher said.

Pons Brooks recently captured the attention of astronomers after it exhibited an interesting behavior that caused the comet to develop a horned appearance and soar across our solar system.

The comet has witnessed a number of explosions over the past eight months, spewing out gas and dust. While such releases are not uncommon in comets, and a crescent or Pac-Man shape has been observed in other comets, it is difficult to know what is normal for Pons Brooks.

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“I would say it's somewhat unusual in terms of the number of explosions that have occurred,” Schleicher said. “On the other hand, it's not like you have good records from the past to let you know what's typical. And I suspect that given the fairly large number of explosions that have occurred over the past eight months, it's pretty clear that this is a regular occurrence for Ponce Brooks.” .

Gianluca Masi/Virtual Telescope Project

The Virtual Telescope Project captured a view of the comet above Manciano, in the Tuscany region of Italy, under the peninsula's darkest skies.

Comets are pieces of dust, rock, and ice, essentially frozen remains from the formation of the solar system. They also contain freezing elements such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

Schleicher said that comets heat up and shine as they approach the sun, and some of the frozen gases stored in comets do not need to be heated much before they begin to turn into vapor.

“We think the primary driver, of course, is heating from the sun,” he said. “The comet is coming; it has been sitting in a deep freeze for years. The heat will work its way from the surface down to wherever there is carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide ice.

Astronomers suspect that the Pons-Brooks explosions occurred over recurring events, where heat vaporizes material inside the comet, causing pressure to build up and breach the surface. While the gas explosion wouldn't be visible in telescopes, the dust kicked up from it would create the kind of events observed from Ponce Brooks, Schleicher said.

Scientists have traced jets of material observed shooting from the comet as it exploded to two source regions on its surface. Astronomers are puzzled as to why “the entire surface isn't exploding like crazy,” Schleicher said.

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Observations suggest that the ice has flaked off most of the surface, or that the ice has evaporated, leaving only dirt behind, but astronomers are “not quite sure which of these mechanisms is running the show,” he said.

An interwoven series of events Possible This contributed to Ponce Brookes' distinctive appearance, but it may also be due to our view of the comet, Carretta said.

“These are three-dimensional things,” Carretta said. “When we take pictures of the night sky, we take them in a limited range of colors, and they're all flat in two dimensions. This will make things that might otherwise make perfect sense to you, if you were able to get up and walk around and see them from two different perspectives, look much more complex than they really are.”

Astronomers are monitoring Pons Brooks in hopes of revealing more details about its spin rate, or the rate at which comets spin as they move through space. Pons Brookes' rotation period is 57 hours, which is longer than expected, and astronomers want to know whether jets of material emitted by the comet are speeding it up or slowing it down.

But Schleicher recommends observing the comet now rather than during the eclipse.

“In all my years, I've seen a lot of comets. I've only seen two total eclipses, and this would be No. 3. The first one I saw was in 1991, from Baja. That was extraordinary. I remember realizing that it was no wonder this was considered the most spectacular spectacle in “The sky can be seen by anyone on earth. Get on the road and see it all. You don't understand it until you see one.”