City-Sized ‘Evil Comet’ Heading Toward Earth Loses Its Iconic Horns, Turns Green After Latest Volcanic Eruption

The iconic horns of Devil’s Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks were missing after its last eruption. But the comet’s coma, or atmosphere, had a green glow and sported a trail of shadow instead. (Image credit: Eliot Herman)

The massive volcanic “devil’s comet” heading toward the sun may have lost the distinctive horns that gave it its sinister nickname. Last week, after the comet’s last and most violent outburst, its characteristic leading spikes did not appear as they had in previous eruptions. But astronomers have spotted several new features of the comet, including a rare green hue and a mysterious “shadow.”

Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks (12P) is a massive 10.5 mile wide (17 kilometer) comet that is on track to make its closest approach to Earth in more than 70 years next summer. Comet 12P is a cryovolcanic comet, or cold volcano, consisting of an icy shell or core filled with ice and gas. When the comet absorbs enough solar radiation, its icy interiors, or cryomagma, are superheated. Pressure builds inside the core until the shell cracks and the comet’s icy innards spill out into space. After an eruption, the comet’s coma – a fuzzy, reflective cloud of cryomagma and dust – expands and makes the comet appear much brighter to astronomers when it reflects the sun’s rays.

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