Indian astronomers have captured a stunning image of the enigmatic Comet P12/Pons-Brooks, also known as the ‘Devil Comet’ or the ‘Millennium Falcon’, using the Himalayan Chandra Telescope (HCT) at the Indian Astronomical Observatory in Hanle, Ladakh.
The comet, first discovered in 1812, completes an orbit around the Sun every 71 years and has recently exhibited increased activity, with multiple outbursts of gas and dust that have dramatically brightened it.
The image is a composite of individual exposures taken with three different color filters, revealing a bright arc, a dark lane, and a spherical halo. The comet’s atmosphere spans an impressive 3,50,000 kilometers in diameter.
Since July, there have been four significant outbursts, each releasing billions of kilograms of material and causing the comet to brighten nearly a hundredfold. The most recent explosion occurred on November 14.
As Comet P12/Pons-Brooks approaches its closest encounter with the Sun on April 21, 2024, and its nearest approach to Earth on June 2, 2024, it promises to offer a dazzling display. At its closest, it will be just 1.5 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun, making it potentially visible to the naked eye, or at the very least, through binoculars or small telescopes.
Astronomers are eager to study the comet’s outbursts and learn more about its composition and evolution. The institute is committed to documenting the comet’s journey for public viewing.