A “horned” comet three times bigger than Mount Everest exploded for the second time in four months and is now hurtling toward Earth, scientists have warned. The comet, named 12P/Pons-Brooks, is a cryovolcanic – or cold volcano – comet, according to Live Science. It measures a colossal 18.6 miles (30 kilometres) in diameter, and it erupted on October 5.
This marked the second time this comet erupted in the last four months, with the last celestial event occurring in July. The British Astronomical Association (BAA), which has been closely monitoring 12P, detected the explosion after noticing that it appeared dozens of times brighter due to the light reflected by its coma – the cloud gas surrounding its centre.
Over the next few days, the comet’s coma further expanded and developed its “peculiar horns”, Live Science reported. Some experts joked that the irregular shape of the coma also makes the comet look like a science fiction spaceship, such as the Millenium Falcon from ‘Star Wars’.
The cause of the horns is unclear, however, experts believe that it could be caused by the shape of 12P’s nucleus. “The two ‘horns’ may be caused by a peculiarly-shaped cryovolcanic vent with some sort of blockage causing the material to be expelled with a weird flow pattern,” said Richard Miles of the British Astronomical Association, as per the New York Post.
But despite 12P’s ominous trajectory, there is no need to brace for “deep impact yet”. Scientists said that the comet won’t reach its closest point to Earth until 2024 when it will become visible to the naked eye. This comet will then be catapulted back into the solar system, and won’t make its cosmic comeback tour until the year 2095.
Notably, this is 12P’s second explosion since July 20, when the celestial object blew for the first time in 69 years. During this eruption, the horn-like emissions were 7,000 times wider than the comet itself.
Citing BAA, Live Science reported that for now, it is unclear how large the coma grew during the most recent eruption, but there are signs the outburst was “twice as intense” as the previous one. By now, the coma has likely shrunk back to near its normal size, it said.
Now, this comet can attract more interest next year if it continues to explode. It was first discovered by Jean-Louis Pons on July 12, 1812. It is reportedly one of 20 known comets with active ice volcanoes.