Exciting information! A much-anticipated comet is brightening and nonetheless would possibly grow to be 2021’s brightest comet. Astronomer Greg Leonard found the comet that now bears his identify – C/2021 A1 (Leonard) – on January 3, 2021, on the Mount Lemmon Observatory in Arizona. Astronomers reported then that discovery pictures confirmed a tail for the comet, suggesting we would see a pleasant tail as Comet Leonard attracts nearer to the Earth and sun. The comet is now between the orbits of Mars and Earth, heading inward. Comets are usually brightest across the time they’re closest to the sun. And Comet Leonard will attain perihelion, its closest level to the sun, round January 3, 2022.
And what in regards to the comet’s closest method to Earth? NASA/JPL estimates that Comet Leonard’s closest method to Earth shall be on December 12, 2021, at round 13:54 UTC. It’ll cross Earth on the extraordinarily protected distance of 21,687,279 miles (34,902,292 km).
Its orbit additionally means that the comet will then cross comparatively shut (about 2,632,000 miles) to planet Venus on December 18, 2021.
Estimates point out it would attain a visual magnitude between 5 and a couple of.6 (the decrease the brighter), and though at its brightest the comet shall be near the horizon, we nonetheless would possibly get superb views utilizing binoculars through the days earlier than closest method to Earth, in early December 2021. Visibility to the attention alone should still be a chance.
Nature supplies us with sky occasions seen as soon as in a lifetime. Comet Leonard is perhaps one in every of these, as preliminary observations recommend this comet completes an orbit across the sun in about 80,000 years.
In different phrases, after this present shut sweep previous our sun, we is not going to see Comet Leonard once more.
This comet is initially seen from the Northern Hemisphere. But it’s going to grow to be seen from the Southern Hemisphere in December 2021 and January 2022.
Will Comet Leonard be seen to the unaided eye? It’s doable. This is perhaps this yr’s brightest comet and can present a pleasant spectacle to observers utilizing lengthy publicity cameras, and even binoculars and the smallest telescopes.
An superb function of this celestial customer is that it’s an ultrafast comet. It’s touring at 158,084 miles per hour (254,412 km/h or 70.67 km per second) relative to Earth.
Despite its unbelievable velocity via the huge space of our solar system, don’t count on to see this comet swoosh throughout the sky. Like planets, comets do transfer in entrance of the star background, however solely very slowly because of the massive distances concerned. Observers utilizing telescopes should take an in depth have a look at the comet’s place relative to background stars. Then examine the view 5 or 10 minutes later to detect its movement, as a result of its nice distance will trigger it to look as a really sluggish transferring object.
Here are just a few charts …
Comet Leonard earlier than dawn
Comet Leonard after sundown
Around December 14-16, 2021, Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) will grow to be seen simply after sundown, very low within the southwest horizon, as seen from the U.S.
Bottom line: Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) – found on January 3, 2021 – is heading inward towards its January 3, 2022, perihelion. It would possibly grow to be the brightest comet of 2021! Bookmark this publish. We’ll be updating it.
Eddie Irizarry of the Sociedad de Astronomía del Caribe (Astronomical Society of the Caribbean) has been a NASA Solar System Ambassador since 2004. He loves public outreach and has printed a number of astronomy articles for EarthSky, in addition to for newspapers in Puerto Rico. He has additionally provided dozens of conferences associated to asteroids and comets on the Arecibo Observatory.
Asteroid 33012EddieIrizarry, a 7.8 km space rock, has been named in his honor.