Catch the 'Devil Comet' Before It's Gone: Your Guide to Viewing 12P/Pons-Brooks

~6 min

Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks is visible in the northwestern sky early in the evenings. Over time, it will become harder to spot from mid-northern latitudes. The comet has gotten bright enough (magnitude 4.0) to see it with a small telescope or binoculars if the sky is dark. Sadly, the Moon will get brighter this week, which will make the comet harder to see. The comet will be at its brightest on April 21, when it is closest to the Sun. Need a hand spotting it? Download the free Sky Tonight app and let the adventure begin.


Is the comet 12P/Pons-Brooks visible tonight?

If you are at mid-northern latitudes, look for the comet low in the western sky just after it gets dark. The best time to see it is around 9 pm local time. At that time, the comet will begin to go below the treetops, so find a place with a clear view to the west-northwest. The comet might look like a faint, fuzzy spot that could seem greenish in photos. With binoculars or in photos with long exposures, you might also see its faint tail pointing upward.

Is the comet Pons-Brooks visible to the naked eye?

Although the comet has surpassed the naked-eye visibility limit of magnitude 6.5, it's still unlikely that you can currently spot it without binoculars. This is because the magnitude scale works well for pinpoint sources of light like stars or planets, but it's not as reliable for diffuse objects like galaxies and comets because it measures the total light spread out over the object.

Comets typically become visible to the naked eye when they hit around magnitude 3. And 12P/Pons-Brooks may reach this magnitude!

The “devil comet” Pons-Brooks is a cryovolcanic comet — an ice volcano flying through space. From time to time, it erupts, sending bursts of ice and gas into space, causing it to appear much brighter for the next few days.

On the night of April 3-4, multiple observers from all over the world reported that comet Pons-Brook suddenly became much brighter than on previous nights. According to the reports, its brightness increased by 1 magnitude, and now the comet looks like a star-like object with an apparent magnitude of 3.5 to 4!

Where is the comet Pons-Brooks tonight?

Let’s take a look at the comet’s path across the sky in the near future and its visibility forecast.

Location of the comet Pons-Brooks in April

Comet Pons-Brooks begins the month in Aries and then moves into Taurus. It's at a reasonable altitude at the beginning of April but moves closer to the Sun in our sky throughout the month.

  • April 10: 12P/Pons-Brooks (mag 4.4) passes about 7° from the thin lunar crescent in the constellation Aries.

  • April 12: 12P/Pons-Brooks (mag 4.4) passes about 5° from Jupiter and Uranus in Aries. About 13° above them, you can find the bright star cluster Pleiades (mag 1.2).

  • April 19-20: 12P/Pons-Brooks (mag 4.0) moves from Aries to Taurus. Around this time, it becomes visible from the Southern Hemisphere.

How to see the comet 12P/Pons-Brooks now?

⁠ You can save your time searching for the comet at random and learn its exact location with the help of the Sky Tonight astronomy app. Here is how to do it:

  • Launch the app, tap the magnifying glass icon at the bottom left of the main screen, and type "Pons-Brooks" in the search bar.
  • Tap the target button to the right of the desired result. The app will show you the comet on the sky map.
  • Tap the compass button or point your device at the sky and follow the white arrow with the comet symbol until you see the comet on the screen.
  • Now look for the comet in that direction.

Discover dozens of other useful Sky Tonight features that will make your stargazing nights smooth and fun! Watch our tutorials here.

Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks in 2024: key dates

Pons-Brooks at its brightest on April 21

On April 21, 2024, Pons-Brooks will reach its perihelion, the closest point to the Sun. At this moment, it will shine at its brightest (with a magnitude of around 4.0) in the constellation Taurus.

However, due to its elongation — the visible distance between the Sun and the comet from an observer's point of view — being only 22°, in most locations the comet will be too low in the sky when the Sun sets completely. Nevertheless, if you can find a location with a clear horizon, there's a chance you may spot the comet with the naked eye.

Right after perihelion, the comet will disappear from the night sky in the Northern Hemisphere. It will remain visible in the Southern Hemisphere, although its apparent brightness will decrease. By the end of May, its magnitude may drop to around 6-7, and by the end of June, it could further decrease to magnitude 8-9.

Pons-Brooks closest to Earth on June 2

On June 2, 2024, the comet will be closest to the Earth. It will appear fainter than at perihelion as it moves away from the Sun. However, observers in the Southern Hemisphere under clear skies will still have the opportunity to spot it using binoculars. Look for the comet in the constellation Lepus during this time.

What is the comet 12P/Pons-Brooks?

12P/Pons-Brooks is a Halley-type short-period comet with an orbital period of 71 years. The comet was officially discovered in July 1812 by a French astronomer Jean-Louis Pons. Then it was accidentally re-discovered in 1883 by an American astronomer William Brooks, which led to its combined name. However, even before that, the Chinese had known about the comet as far back as the 1300s.

The comet's last perihelion, the point in its orbit closest to the Sun, occurred on May 22, 1954. Luckily, we won't have to wait too long to see it again, as the next perihelion is expected to happen on April 21, 2024.

After 12P/Pons-Brooks moves away from Earth, it will take another 71 years to complete another full orbit around the Sun. For many of us, its appearance in 2024 will probably be our only chance to see it. However, some may have a second opportunity in the summer of 2095, when 12P/Pons-Brooks will reach its perihelion on August 10.

Interesting fact: 12P/Pons-Brooks is thought to be the potential parent body of the weak December κ-Draconids meteor shower. This shower is active from about November 29 to December 13 and typically produces less than two meteors per hour. It is considered the most prolific of those associated with the comet.

In addition, comet Pons-Brooks, along with the comets 122P/de Vico and 27P/Crommelin, may be responsible for a cluster of meteor showers on Venus.

The comet with horns: the “devil comet” explained

In the mass media, 12P/Pons-Brooks is widely referred to as the "devil comet". But don't worry, the comet is not bringing another apocalypse or an evil message from outer space.

On July 20, 2023, Elek Tamás, an astronomer from Harsona Observatory in Hungary, noticed that the comet named 12P/Pons-Brooks had become significantly brighter. It was 16.6 magnitude just the night before, and Elek spotted it at a magnitude of 11.6. That’s 100 times brighter! The comet went through what's known as an outburst, a dramatic and sudden release of dust and gas that caused it to brighten significantly.

This eruption also distorted the coma into a horseshoe or horn shape, with a dark center and bright wings or points. This is why many media nicknamed it the “devil comet”. (Some also called it the “Millennium Falcon Comet”, after the spaceship in Star Wars).

12P/Pons-Brooks and the Millennium Falcon
After the outburst, the comet developed a remarkable tail in the form of “horns.” The comet's new appearance even led people to compare it to the iconic Millennium Falcon from the Star Wars franchise.

After the outburst, the comet quickly faded. Astronomers said that such outbursts are random, rare, and unpredictable. However, Pons-Brooks, in particular, has shown such behavior before. We don't know what causes the "horns": it could be that the comet is spewing gas and dust unevenly. Maybe there's an area of the surface that's not blowing off steam, so it stays dark, while the areas on either side of it are bright. Or maybe it's a shadow effect, where denser material or even topography in the center of the comet seems to block out some of the bright material behind it from our point of view.

Bright comet Pons-Brooks: Bottom line

Catch the "devil comet" 12P/Pons-Brooks tonight as it’s still visible in the evening sky! Just after sunset, look to the northwest towards Jupiter. An hour later, the comet will be very low, making it difficult to spot unless the horizon is totally clear. Use your binoculars and the Sky Tonight app to spot the comet.