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The Solar Eclipse

When the moon blocks the sun on April 8th, eclipse enthusiasts won’t just be looking for the sun’s corona. They might also catch a glimpse of a comet.

Comet Pons-Brooks

Comet 12/P Pons-Brooks, which visits our inner solar system every 71 years, will be closest to the sun on April 21st, just two weeks after the eclipse. Its timing could make it visible in the twilight created by the eclipse.

How to Find the Comet

Astronomer Tony Farnham recommends looking to the left of the eclipsed sun. Jupiter will be nearby, looking like a bright star. Scan around Jupiter with binoculars, and you might spot the comet as a fuzzy object.

Cautions

  • Only use binoculars during the total eclipse when the sun is completely hidden.
  • Never look directly at the sun during a partial eclipse, even with protective glasses.
  • Direct sunlight can damage optical equipment.

Expectations

Experts are cautious about expectations for seeing Pons-Brooks. Its brightness may be at the limit of human vision, especially in a dark sky. However, if the comet undergoes an outburst, it could become more visible.

What Causes Comet Outbursts?

The exact cause of comet outbursts is unknown, but it may involve heat from the sun causing gases to vaporize and shoot out material.

Farnham’s Perspective

“If you see something, great, but if you don’t, the real story here is the eclipse,” says Farnham. He emphasizes that the eclipse is the main event, and any comet sighting would be a bonus.