At first, scientists predicted the volcanic comet was due to pop ‘like a bottle of champagne’ – and it did

An infrared image of Comet 29P’s coma and tail after an eruption on December 8, 2003. (Image credit: NASA/Spitzer Space Telescope)

Astronomers recently rejoiced after seeing a strange volcanic comet burst like a “champagne bottle”, spraying gas and ice across the solar system like sparkling wine. The unusual explosion was cause for celebration as, for the first time, researchers successfully predicted it was about to happen.

The volatile comet, known as 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann (29P), is about 60 kilometers wide and takes about 14.9 years to orbit the sun. In addition to being volcanic, 29P has an unusually circular orbit for a comet and runs much slower than expected. It’s one of about 100 comets, called “centaurs”, that have been pushed from the Kuiper Belt – a ring of icy comets that lurk beyond Neptune – into a closer orbit around the sun closer of Jupiter.

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