First, scientists predicted the volcanic comet would pop ‘like a champagne bottle’ – and it did

Infrared image of the coma and tail of Comet 29P after it erupted on December 8, 2003. (Image credit: NASA/Spitzer Space Telescope)

Astronomers recently rejoiced after witnessing the eruption of a strange volcanic comet like a “champagne bottle”, spraying gas and ice across the solar system like sparkling wine. The unusual explosion was cause for celebration because it was the first time researchers had successfully predicted it would happen.

The volatile comet, known as 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann (29P), is about 37 miles (60 kilometers) across and takes about 14.9 years to orbit around sun. Besides being volcanic, 29P has an unusually circular orbit for a a comet and spins much slower than expected. It’s one of about 100 comets known as “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, near Jupiter.

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