6.30pm, Sunday 21st April 2024. Image: SkySafari, SkySafariAstronomy.com.

It’s comet hunting time! Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks is also known as the Devil Comet because of how, in some images, the comet’s tail looks forked, like two devilish horns.

Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks, the Devil Comet, is jointly named after the 19th-century French astronomer Jean-Louis Pons (who recorded it in 1812) and the British-American astronomer William Robert Brooks who sighted it again on its next pass 71 years later in 1883. Together, Pons and Brooks are credited as the two most prolific discoverers of comets.

Not all comets become visible to the naked eye. However, Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks will be: as long as you’re in a dark sky location! The comet will still appear very faint to the human eye, but hopefully, you’ll be able to make out the head and tail of the comet.

You may even have to wait until the Moon has set to give you even darker night sky conditions.

Binoculars make it easier to scan the horizon for comets and their tails. If you don’t have any yourself, try borrowing a pair. Your friends or neighbours may enjoy the hunt, too!

What is a Comet?

Comets are made up of rocks, minerals, ice, and frozen gases and are found in the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud, beyond Neptune’s orbit. They are the leftovers from the formation of our solar system!

As a comet approaches the Sun, the ice heats up and turns into gas. This creates a beautiful display of a bright head and tail of gas and dust. We never quite know how bright a comet is going to be before it gets here!

You’re looking for a faint star-like object that looks a bit fuzzier than a true star. This is the head of the comet. It will look a bit fuzzy, with a very faint and short streak of light coming from it (the comet’s tail).

In the case of Comet 12P/Pons Brooks, some cryovolcanic eruptions have also produced what looks like another tail. When this happens, the comet looks like it has two tails or a pair of horns, hence the name Devil Comet.

Where can you see the Devil Comet?

If you’re asking yourself where can I see the Devil Comet in Australia?, you’re in luck. Comet 12P/Pons–Brooks is in our night skies right now, in April 2024. Look towards Jupiter, which is low on the western horizon after sunset.

You will need a clear view of the western horizon. Make sure there are no trees or buildings in the way. The image above is for Sunday, 21st April. If you are comet hunting before this, the comet will be a little bit closer to Jupiter.

In the days after 21st April, the comet will appear to move further away from Jupiter.

Dark sky locations are the best places to see fainter objects like Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks.

Head out to an Astrotourism Town observing site or astrophotography hot spot. These locations have been specially chosen for visitors to experience wonderful dark night skies.

If you can’t escape the city, try heading to your local beach.

Helpful Tools to Help You Find the Comet

Some tools to help you locate Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks in the night sky include the SkySafari app (costs may apply). The image above is generated from SkySafari. Locate the comet by using the search function on SkySafari AR. Search for 12P, press ‘centre’ and the app will show you where the comet is from night to night. Use the stars around the Comet as a guide to try and find it.

If you don’t catch Comet 12P/Pons–Brooks, it will be visible again in 2095.

Where Can I see the Comet?

Country WA is perfect for comet hunting because there are low levels of light pollution. Visit an Astrotourism Town and see for yourself!