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'Devil's comet,' visible every 71 years, striking the sky this spring

The 12P/Pons-Brooks comet isn't at peak viewing yet, but backyard astronomers are already capturing stunning images of its flare-ups.
"Devil's comet" is shown.
Posted at 3:13 PM, Mar 18, 2024

Sky-watchers have a lot to look forward to in spring of 2024. 

They have likely had the total solar eclipse happening on April 8 circled on their calendars for months, but a comet streaking by in April is making an early appearance in the night sky this month, too.

The 12P/Pons-Brooks comet has been visible to amateur astronomers during March thanks to a series of flare-ups before its direct fly-by, to come sometime between April 21 and 24. 

NASA says the comet could be visible with the naked eye during next month's eclipse, but at the moment, it's best spotted in early evening with binoculars or a telescope in the constellation Pisces.

Photos of the green "city-sized" comet have appeared on social media over the past week thanks to some incredible photographers, including Aleix Roig, who shared this telescopic photo from March 12.

The 12P/Pons-Brooks comet — also known as the "devil's comet," thanks to a flare-up last year that made it look as if it had a devil's horns — only comes into full view once every 71 years, so for many astronomy fans, the comet's appearance this year is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Originally spotted in 1812 by French astronomer Jean-Louis Pons, the comet returned in 1883 and was documented by American astronomer William Brooks. At the time, Brooks didn't realize his discovery had already been documented seven decades earlier. The scientific community named the comet Pons-Brooks to honor both men.

The Pons-Brooks comet is a cold-volcano comet that erupts periodically, which is what makes it visible on Earth long before it reaches its April perihelion — the time when its elliptical orbit is closet to the sun. reports that the comet has had occasional flare-ups that night sky-watchers have been able to capture with telescopes, like this image from AstroBackyard, several times over the past few months, going back to last October.

If you can't wait until April to see the Pons-Brooks Comet, you can try to get a glimpse of it now. Until the end of the month, sky-gazers will likely need a telescope or binoculars to locate it near the western horizon.

"While the comet will become a little brighter, it will likely stay a binocular object," Elizabeth Warner, director of the University of Maryland Astronomy Observatory, said in an email to The Washington Post. "From dark locations, it might be visible to the naked eye."

If possible, try to find a location with minimal light pollution for the best chance to see the comet, especially if you're trying to see it without the aid of a telescope or binoculars.

Residents in the Northern Hemisphere can try to spot the Pons-Brooks comet through May, while it only becomes visible in the southern half of the planet for about a month before disappearing from view completely until 2095.

This story was originally published by Marie Rossiter on