How to See Green, Horned Fireball During Eclipse

  • During the total solar eclipse on April 8, the fiery green “Devil’s Comet” may also be visible.
  • This Mount Everest-sized comet orbits our sun every 71 years and won’t return until 2095.
  • The timing offers a rare opportunity to see a comet and a total solar eclipse simultaneously.

Eclipse watchers could benefit from a two-for-one Monday special.

On April 8, the moon will obscure the sun over a significant portion of the United States, plunging cities from Texas to Maine into several minutes of darkness.

But there will be another exciting astronomical event to watch out for.

For the first time in 71 years, comet 12P/Pons-Brooks, aka the “Mother of Dragons” or “Devil’s Comet,” is coming relatively close to the sun. Don’t worry, it won’t collide with Earth.

This unusually sized comet is estimated to be as large as Mount Everest, and it gets its nickname “Devil’s Comet” from the horn-shaped explosions within its coma – the localized cloud of gas, dust and particles of ice which envelops the solid of the comet. nucleus in a nebulous envelope.

During the total solar eclipse, when the moon completely eclipses the sun, the sky darkens enough that you can barely see the Devil’s Comet with the naked eye. Or you can pull out a pair of binoculars or a telescope.

Remember that it is never safe to look directly at the sun during a solar eclipse without eclipse glasses or through a solar lens filter. The only exception to this rule is during the brief window of totality, which will last a few minutes, and when the sky darkens enough to have a chance of spotting the Devil’s Comet if the sky is clear enough.

When and where to see the Devil’s Comet

Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks photographed to show its horn-shaped outflows.

This image of the Devil’s Comet shows its horn-shaped exits, hence its satanic nickname.

Juan Lacruz/Wikimedia Commons

To find Pons-Brooks, first look towards the eclipsed sun of the planet Jupiter, it will appear as a small bright point of light in the upper left.

After spotting Jupiter, look slightly up and to the right. The comet will be located between Jupiter and the sun, but closer to Jupiter.

In close-up photos, the comet appears as a green streak in the sky due to the high levels of dicarbon it contains which emit green light.

But if you spot it during totality on Monday, the comet will likely appear as a small gray blob, Robert Massey, deputy executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society, said on its website.

This will be hard to spot, so just make sure you enjoy the brief moments of totality as well. Time will pass quickly and there will be many other spectacular phenomena to watch out for during the event, besides Devil’s Comet.

How bright will the Devil’s Comet be?

Wide-angle shot of a total solar eclipse over the European Southern Observatory in La Silla, Chile.

The entire sky looks like twilight, not the deep darkness of midnight. However, totality could be dark enough to reveal Devil’s Comet on April 8.

ESO/R. Lucchesi/Wikimedia Commons

During the eclipse, the Devil’s Comet will still be two weeks away from reaching its closest distance from the sun, when it will be brightest.

As of April 8, its apparent magnitude is estimated at about 4.9, meaning it will be just at the edge of what the human eye can see, said Geronimo Villanueva, associate director for strategic science at the NASA’s Solar System Exploration Division.

But the visibility of comets is difficult to predict. The brightness of comets depends on how sunlight interacts with their coma. Because a comet’s distance from the sun and its coma constantly change during its orbit, so does its brightness.

Many comets that were supposed to be dazzling died out by the time they reached Earth, while others put on a surprisingly good show. As for the Devil’s Comet, we’ll just have to wait and see.

One of the great things about Pons Brooks is that it is cryovolcanic, meaning it tends to erupt quite frequently. When this happens, the cloud of ice and dust surrounding it expands, making it brighter. So a flare during a total solar eclipse would be a spectacular treat if it happened.

Map showing the position of 12P/Pons-brooks as it moves across the horizon

This map shows the position of 12P/Pons-Brooks relative to Jupiter from March 18 to April 17.

Stuart Atkinson

However, if you don’t see the comet on April 8, try again in the days leading up to April 21, when it will be closest to the sun and brightest.

As the days go by, its trajectory in our sky will get closer to Jupiter, finally passing it and ending up on the left side of the planet on April 17.


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