Comet 12P/Pons–Brooks: A Celestial Spectacle in 2024

Comet 12P Pons-Brooks - 12 March, Credit: Adam Block
Comet 12P Pons-Brooks - 12 March, Credit: Adam Block

Comet 12P/Pons–Brooks, a captivating celestial traveller, is currently making its way across the western night sky in the evenings. Astronomers and comet enthusiasts alike are buzzing with excitement as this remarkable comet graces our view. Let’s delve into the fascinating story of Comet 12P/Pons–Brooks and learn how to spot it during its upcoming appearance.

The Journey of 12P/Pons-Brooks

As its name suggests, Comet 12P was the 12th comet to have its periodic orbit calculated. With an orbital period of approximately 71 years, it embarks on a cosmic dance around the Sun.

Dazzling Outbursts: In 2023, Comet 12P put on quite a show. On July 20, it underwent a dramatic outburst, brightening an astonishing 100 times to reach 12th magnitude. But that wasn’t all—another outburst followed in October, and yet another in late November.

Horseshoe-Shaped Beauty: During its outburst, Comet 12P revealed an intriguing feature: a distinct horseshoe-shaped coma. Some stargazers even likened its appearance to the iconic Millennium Falcon from the Star Wars saga.

Close Encounters: As it journeys through space, Comet 12P/Pons–Brooks swings close to the Sun and then retreats to the outer reaches of our solar system. At aphelion (its farthest point), it ventures 33.6 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun—just beyond Neptune’s orbit. Conversely, at perihelion (closest to the Sun), it approaches within 0.8 AU, slightly farther out than Venus.

Spotting Comet 12P

Unlike some comets that prefer the early morning hours, 12P/Pons–Brooks shines brightest in the evening sky. Keep an eye out for it during March as the celestial body moves from Pegasus in early in the month through to Pisces and Aries by the end of the month.

The comet is predicted to brighten from magnitude 7.1 to 5.2. The latter value brings it tantalizingly close to naked-eye visibility. Imagine spotting this cosmic wanderer without the aid of binoculars or telescopes!

Unique Opportunities: On the evening of March 31, Comet 12P/Pons–Brooks lies less than half a degree from a prominent star. However, be aware that expanding evening twilight may pose challenges as Hamal hovers just 10° above the west-northwestern horizon after true darkness falls.

On the evening of 10 April, the comet will form a triangle with Jupiter and the thin crescent Moon. However, evening twilight will always be disrupting the show at this point.

12P/Pons-Brooks Star Chart

Click to enlarge

2024 Total Solar Eclipse? – Don’t Miss It!

With the visitor’s return in 2024 coinciding with a total solar eclipse on April 8, Comet 12P/Pons–Brooks promises an unforgettable astronomical event. While its brightness can be unpredictable, seize the chance to witness this celestial marvel. Whether you’re an experienced skywatcher or a curious novice, keep your eyes on the skies—it’s a rendezvous you won’t want to miss!

Remember, the cosmos always has surprises in store, and Comet 12P/Pons–Brooks is no exception. Happy stargazing!