A city-sized comet barreling towards Earth grew “horns” after a second massive volcanic eruption occurred on Oct. 5.
The “cryovolcanic” comet called 12P/Pons-Brooks will make its closest approach to Earth in 2024, according to LiveScience. And the enormous space rock (some 18.6 miles in diameter) just violently exploded for the second time in four months.
12P’s latest eruption was reported by the British Astronomical Association (BAA). Astronomers within the BAA detected a large burst from the comet, and then watched as it became more than a dozen times brighter than usual.
Last July Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks exploded, and the debris formed the "shape of the Millennium Falcon". On Oct. 5th, it happened again, the comet exploded with a 100-fold increase in brightness. 1/— Erika (@ExploreCosmos_) October 9, 2023
👉 https://t.co/B6qLHga1yv pic.twitter.com/dlr60uTqdv
“It is fascinating to see Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks ‘come alive’ again, sporting peculiar horns and symmetrical knots around the comet coma,” Florida-based astronomer Bill Williams said of the eruption, according to SpaceWeather.
A “cryovolcanic” comet is simply a cold volcano. It has a solid nucleus and is filled with a mixture of dust, ice, and gas particles called cryomagma. It really sounds like the sort of thing you’d hear about in a science fiction book. But alas, she’s real.
As cryovolcanic comets hurtle toward the sun, they’re heated up by solar radiation. Pressure from the particles within the comet will eventually build to the point of explosion, when their frozen guts will be spewed through gaps in the nucleus shell.
But not to worry — 12P won’t be hitting us any time soon. She’ll whiz by Earth again on April 21, 2024, before disappearing back into the cosmos until at least 2095.