Exploding comet: Will cryovolcanic Pons-Brooks hit Earth in 2024, how close will it get - and how to see it

(Photo: Comet Chasers/Richard Miles)(Photo: Comet Chasers/Richard Miles)
(Photo: Comet Chasers/Richard Miles) | Comet Chasers/Richard Miles
How close will the cryovolcanic comet come to Earth, and will you be able to see it?

Astronomers have discovered a comet three times the size of Mount Everest that has exploded in space and is currently flying towards Earth. The space object, designated 12P/Pons-Brooks, is a type of comet known as a cryovolcanic comet, sometimes known as a cold volcano comet.

It is composed of ice, dust and gases, and has a solid nucleus with an estimated diameter of 18.6 miles (30 km). As its cryomagma is heated by the sun, pressure inside the comet keeps increasing until an explosion of nitrogen and carbon monoxide sends frozen debris flying through wide fractures in the nucleus' shell.

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This has occurred to Pons-Brooks twice in the past four months, resulting in what, when viewed through a telescope, seems to be a massive pair of horns or a horseshoe-like form. But will the object strike the Earth, and just how dangerous is it to life on our planet? Here is everything you need to know about it.

Will comet hit Earth?

The space rock is expected to keep erupting as it moves closer to Earth, possibly even more violently than it has previously. However, Pons-Brooks won't actually impact Earth. In fact, the object will only come within 232 million km (144 million miles) of Earth at its closest. This is far enough away that Pons-Brooks isn't even considered a near Earth object (NEO); such objects must pass within around 120 million miles of our planet.

Will it be visible in the night sky?

The last time the space rock - which is around the same size as the famous Halley's comet - was visible to the naked eye from Earth was in 1954. Despite being at its closest to Earth in April 2024, Pons-Brooks is expected to be at its brightest in the night skies of May and June 2024, when it is expected to be visible to the naked eye. The object is expected to be at its very brightest on the evening of 2 June 2024.

After making its closest approach to Earth, the space rock will head back to the outer solar system, and won't be seen again until 2095. Pons-Brooks is currently in the constellation of Hercules, and can be seen at a height of 36 degrees above the horizon when facing east-northeast.

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