Devil Comet returns to Aussie skies for in once in a lifetime event

After this year, the comet won't be visible again until 2095.

Image of 12P/Pons-Brooks, known as Devil's Comet, in the sky.
The Devil's Comet will be ready for Aussies to see in the sky on April 22. Source: Getty

Aussies are encouraged to look up at the sky this weekend as an incredibly rare celestial event passes by for the first time in 71 years. The comet 12P/Pons-Brooks, known commonly as the Devil Comet, will be passing by Earth and visible for Australians to see.

Those looking to catch a glimpse, the Devil Comet will be visible this weekend and bright enough to see with binoculars, or even with the naked eye due to it being so close to the Sun, according to Dr Lucyna Kedziora-Chudczer from Astronomy Australia. The best time to see the comet will be Monday, April 22. It will then disappear again for another several decades not to return until 2095.

The Devil Comet fast facts

  • In 1812, French astronomer Jean-Louis Pons discovered the comet, and in 1884 it was "rediscovered" by British-American astronomer William Robert Brooks — it was then named after the two.

  • It may have been also observed by Chinese astronomers before 1812.

  • 12P/Pons-Brooks is known as the Devil Comet due to its two "tails" that resemble devil horns from certain angles.

  • These tails are caused by the comet's ice and dust being warmed up by the Sun, creating what is called cryovolcanic eruptions.

When and where to see it in Australia

Kedziora-Chudczer told Yahoo News the Devil Comet will be closest to the sun on April 21 before being visible to Aussies from April 22. You can see it from anywhere, though areas with lower light pollution, out of the city will be the best place to be.

"In Australia, from April 22 you should be able to catch it in the western sky around the sunset, not too far from Jupiter which is currently in that area," she said.

"After that (until early May) the comet will be visible longer after the sun sets as it moves away from the Sun, but it will be gradually fainter each day, so you may need binoculars or a small telescope."

Image of 12P/Pons-Brooks, known as Devil's Comet, showing two tails in the sky.
It is known as the Devil's Comet due to having two tails that look like devil horns. Source: X/Comet Chasers

Comets teach us about Earth's history

Comets are just rocky material mixed with ice, according to Kedziora-Chudczer. "We consider them to be the remnants from the building blocks of our Solar System," she said.

"They usually reside on the outskirts of the Solar System in the Oort cloud and they did not undergo too much processing — for example, like matter of planets did through erosion, volcanic processes etc."

Kedziora-Chudczer says that due to this lack of processing, astronomers "can learn a lot about formation and history of the Solar System" by observing comets through an instrument called a spectrograph. "We use it to assert what kind of molecules and atoms are in the materials around the comet," she explained.

By doing this, scientists are finding out many things about our planet, including how the Earth acquired oceanic water. "We think comets that stored a lot of volatiles as ice were able to deliver a large fraction of water to Earth when the planets just formed."

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