The 12P/Pons-Brooks comet is heading towards the Earth. It’s still a telescope object for now, but if you have a little patience, you might be able to spot it with the naked eye in April 2024. In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the comet and when to see it at its best.
What is 12P/Pons–Brooks?
12P/Pons–Brooks is a Halley-type short-period comet with an orbital period of 71 years. The comet was officially discovered in July 1812 by a French astronomer Jean-Louis Pons. Then it was accidentally re-discovered in 1883 by an American astronomer William Brooks, which led to its combined name. However, even before that, the Chinese had known about the comet as far back as the 1300s.
Pons-Brooks is a cold volcano soaring through space. It’s an active cryovolcanic comet with a robust nucleus that can undergo violent explosions and release what scientists call “cryomagma,” consisting of substances like water, ammonia, or methane.
The comet’s last perihelion, the point in its orbit closest to the Sun, occurred on May 22, 1954. Luckily, we won’t have to wait too long to see it again, as the next perihelion is expected to happen on April 21, 2024.
When to see the comet in 2024?
12P/Pons-Brooks is already in the sky, but its best appearance will be in 2024.
The comet during the total eclipse on April 8
On April 8, 2024, at 16:38 GMT, the observers from the USA, Canada, and Mexico will experience a total solar eclipse. That’s a great sight on its own, but even better — the Pons-Brooks comet may show up in the darkened sky. It will be located 27º from the Sun and close to bright Jupiter, which will also appear at that moment.
Don’t let this once-in-a-lifetime event slip by! Set up a reminder using the Sky Tonight app:
- Open the app and tap the magnifying glass at the bottom left.
- Search “solar eclipse” and tap on the relevant result (total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024).
- Find the blue time in the Info section. Tap and hold the time of the solar eclipse beginning to set up a notification. (Note: solar eclipses are location-specific; if it’s not visible from your area, you will see a warning in the Info section).
- Select how early the reminder should be sent, and Sky Tonight will alert you at the appointed day and time. Now you won’t miss the great meeting of the Sun, Moon, Jupiter, and the Pons-Brooks comet!
During the eclipse, the comet will be located in the constellation Aries. While its apparent brightness (around 5) will be enough to see it with the naked eye, the lingering glow from the solar corona might make it difficult to spot the comet without optical aid. Grab a pair of binoculars for a better view, but remember: never point them at the Sun to avoid eye damage.
Pons–Brooks at its brightest on April 21
On April 21, 2024, Pons-Brooks will reach its perihelion, the closest point to the Sun. At this moment, it will shine at its brightest (with a magnitude of around 4.5) in the constellation Taurus. In the dark sky, you may be able to see the comet with the naked eye.
Soon after the perihelion, the comet will disappear from the Northern Hemisphere’s night sky. In the Southern Hemisphere, it will remain visible until the end of the year.
Pons–Brooks closest to Earth on June 2
On June 2, 2024, the comet will be closest to the Earth. It will appear a bit fainter (around magnitude 6.5) than at perihelion as it moves away from the Sun. However, observers in the Southern Hemisphere under clear skies will still have the opportunity to spot it using binoculars or even the naked eye. Look for the comet in the constellation Lepus during this time.
12P/Pons–Brooks outburst on July 20: what happened?
The comet already captured people’s attention around the world, even though it’s not at its full brightness yet. On July 20, 2023, Elek Tamás, an astronomer from Harsona Observatory in Hungary, noticed that the comet named 12P/Pons-Brooks had become significantly brighter. It was 16.6 magnitude just the night before, and Elek spotted it at a magnitude of 11.6. That’s 100 times brighter! The comet went through what’s known as an outburst, a dramatic and sudden release of dust and gas that caused it to brighten significantly.
The comet is likely to fade back soon to be seen only through large telescopes. However, Pons-Brooks is famous for outbursts, so it could happen again in the near future. Regardless of whether another outburst occurs, the comet will naturally become brighter over the coming months because it will be getting closer to the Sun in its orbit.
How to see the comet now?
Although Pons-Brooks has increased in brightness in July 2023, it’s not a naked-eye object yet. To catch the comet now, grab a telescope, pick a clear night, and head out to the suburbs. And don’t forget to check the Moon’s phase — the comet is best viewed during a New Moon.
Where is Pons-Brooks in the sky?
12P/Pons-Brooks is located in the “head” of the constellation Draco. The comet can be observed through the night, but only with at least a six-inch telescope — its visual magnitude for now is about 12.
How to find the comet with Sky Tonight?
You can save your time searching for the comet at random and point your telescope to its exact location with the guidance of the Sky Tonight astronomy app. Here is how to do it:
- Launch the app and tap the magnifying glass icon at the bottom left of the main screen and type “Pons-Brooks” in the search bar.
- Tap the target button to the right of the desired result. The app will show you the comet on the sky map.
- Tap the compass button or point your device at the sky and follow the white arrow with the comet symbol until you see the comet on the screen.
- Now point your telescope in that direction.
Discover dozens of other useful Sky Tonight features that will make your stargazing nights smooth and fun! Watch our tutorials here.
The 12P/Pons-Brooks comet will reach its maximum brightness by April 2024. It is predicted to be fainter than the great comets but still visible with the naked eye in the dark skies. Now it can be observed in a six-inch telescope, and it will gradually get brighter in the coming months.
Text Credit: Vito Technology, Inc.