Space seems to have been giving its best for the latter in 2021, when the arrival of the newly discovered comet Leonard will be one of the most visible comets this year.
The comet, discovered by Greg Leonard, a senior researcher at the University of Arizona, was first detected at the Mount Lemon Observatory outside Tucson, Arizona, on Jan. 3.
Robert Lunsford of the American Meteor Society told USA TODAY that the comet wouldn’t be the most exciting of all but would be “the brightest comet this year.” With the help of binoculars and telescopes, people across the country can really start spotting it in the sky, and it won’t be long before people can view a comet with the naked eye at this once-in-a-lifetime event.
what makes comet Leonard special?
Although it was discovered recently, the comet won’t be stuck around for long. Astrophysicist and Virtual Telescope Project founder Gianluca Massi told USA TODAY that Leonard is a long-lived comet, which means it doesn’t come up very often. In fact, the comet has not passed Earth in more than 70,000 years, and after it passes the Sun, it will be expelled from our solar system, never to be seen on Earth again.
“That makes observing this comet even more exciting, as we’re going to say goodbye to this icy little world,” Massey said.
Massey noted that comets are unpredictable and can often change their course, making them more or less noticeable. However, if Leonard continues on its path, Lunsford says it will be as bright as four, the same as that of regular stars.
When and how can you see it?
Unless you live in Antarctica, Lunsford said, anyone on the planet can see the comet now. Until December 13, the comet can be observed in the morning sky using binoculars or a telescope. On December 12, it will be 21.7 million miles from Earth, its closest point to the planet. If you are able to stay away from light pollution, you will have a better chance of seeing it.
“It’s going downhill with each passing morning,” Lunsford said. “Maybe you can catch some of the comet’s tail.”
Massey noted that the comet will appear next to the global star cluster, Messier 3, on December 3. On December 6, it will appear to the left of Arcturus, one of the brightest stars seen from Earth and “a shining, ‘orange star you can’t miss’,” according to Lunsford.
From December 14, the comet will be visible in the night sky and for several days, no instruments will be required to see it. It will appear next to Venus, Lunsford said, and viewers will notice the comet between the horizon and Venus just after sunset on December 17. In the early hours of December 18, Leonard will be 2.6 million miles from Venus.
It will fade each day into the night sky, but people will be able to spot it, with tools, all the way until Christmas.
For those who can’t see it, the virtual telescope project will do Stream the comet on December 3 at 10 PM EST.
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Comet Leonard: How to see the brightest comet of 2021 in December