TechAstronomers report an explosion in the Solar System

Astronomers report an explosion in the Solar System

Comet 29P/Schwassmann Wachmann. Infrared image taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope.
Comet 29P/Schwassmann Wachmann. Infrared image taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope.
Images source: © NASA

9:33 AM EST, December 11, 2023

The British Astronomical Association has reported an exceptionally powerful explosion of Comet 29P. On December 8, the comet brightened 16 times and ejected a significant amount of cryomagma explosively into space.

Astronomers monitoring the comet note that the magnitude of the eruption was significant, and in the coming days, a cosmic debris cloud will form around it. This effect could be visible for more than a week, which may lead to the comet being mistaken for a star.

The Explosive Comet Between Jupiter and Saturn

Comet 29P, also known as Schwassmann-Wachmann, is a conspicuous inhabitant of the Solar System. Likely originating from the vicinity of the Kuiper Belt, it orbits the Sun, nestled between Jupiter and Saturn. Unusually, it doesn't exhibit typical comet-like features. Instead, it is an icy sphere with an approximate diameter of 37 miles that frequently explodes.

According to Dr. Richard Miles of the British Astronomical Association, Comet 29P is riddled with icy volcanoes. In this aspect, it resembles the renowned "horned" Comet 19P but likely has a more consistent internal structure.

Regular Explosions of Comet 29P

The cryomagma it emits is a cold concoction of liquid hydrocarbons with explosive attributes. When struck by solar rays, the surface of the comet disintegrates, and the ice present beneath the surface contains high quantities of nitrogen and carbon monoxide. Upon heating, the comet experiences a violent explosion.

This theory aligns with the observed consistency of the eruptions. They happen nearly 20 times a year, and every 57.7 days, they originate from the same source. This corresponds to the comet's changing position relative to the Sun. For instance, the recent mega eruption mirrors the event that occurred on August 16. These eruptions are 114 days apart, precisely double the 57-day cycle. This consistency supports the theory that mega eruptions are a series of multiple severe explosions that jostle the comet for several hours.

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