TechRare 'Mother of Dragons' comet lights up the northern sky

Rare 'Mother of Dragons' comet lights up the northern sky

Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks
Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks
Images source: © ESA

7:12 AM EDT, March 30, 2024

The European Space Agency (ESA) is inviting sky-watchers in the northern hemisphere, including those in Poland, to seize a rare opportunity: the sighting of the comet 12P/Pons-Brooks, affectionately dubbed "Mother of Dragons." This celestial visitor graces our skies once every 71 years, making it a not-to-be-missed spectacle.

In an announcement that has stirred excitement among astronomy buffs, the ESA highlighted the chance to observe the comet 12P/Pons-Brooks, or "Mother of Dragons," in the northern hemisphere's night sky. This event is a treat for both amateur stargazers and seasoned astronomers alike.

Boasting a nucleus measuring roughly 19 miles across, this comet orbits the Sun every 71 years. It is famed for its expansive tail and dramatic eruptions of gas and dust. Unusual 'horns' visible in its imagery, a result of surface explosions, have led some to call it "devilish."

Mother of Dragons over Europe

The ESA has embraced the evocative name "Mother of Dragons" for the comet, a nod to popular culture. It's also believed to be the origin of the Kappa Draconids meteor shower, an annual December spectacle. The visibility of the comet changes based on its proximity to the Sun, ranging from a faint shimmer to a clear vision accessible with binoculars or the naked eye. Its closest approach to Earth in June will, unfortunately, render it invisible in the northern hemisphere due to extended daylight.

For optimal viewing, the ESA recommends the transition between March and April. During this window, the comet will be visible in the western sky shortly after sundown.

The story of two astronomers

The comet's name, 12P/Pons-Brooks, pays homage to its discoverers: Jean-Louis Pons, a French astronomer, and William R. Brooks, an Anglo-American. Pons first spotted the comet in 1812, estimating its orbit at around 65-75 years, a prediction later confirmed by Brooks.

The ESA points out that comets are much more than just visual delights; they are primordial bodies that hail from the dawn of the Solar System nearly 5 billion years ago. They offer invaluable insights into its early history. The agency has even launched missions to study comets up close, like Giotto's rendezvous with Halley's Comet in 1986 and Rosetta's orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in 2014. The latter mission made history by deploying a lander onto the comet's surface.

Looking ahead, the Hera mission aims to investigate the aftermath of an impact on the comet Dimorphos, a continuation of NASA's DART mission in 2022. Plans are also afoot for a mission to the asteroid Apophis, which will dramatically sweep by Earth in 2029, and the Comet Interceptor probe, set to launch the same year to study a newly arrived comet in the Solar System.

The Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), a stalwart observer of our Sun, has played a crucial role in our study of comets, capturing many as they venture close to the Sun. Through these endeavors, we continue to peel back the layers of mystery surrounding these ancient objects, enhancing our understanding of the Solar System's past.

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