Comet Leonard Possibly Visible on Christmas

shooting star
Visible comet in night sky. | Image from ClaudioVentrella

Comet Leonard, which last passed by Earth 80,000 years ago, has been illuminating the night sky in the days leading up to Christmas, and there are only a few days left to observe it before it vanishes forever.

Comet C/2021 A1, also known as Comet Leonard, was discovered by researcher Greg Leonard early this year. It was approaching us from the depths of space at the time.

The comet recently passed near Earth, NPR reports, and is now moving away from the planet. Still, its brightness indicates that it could be easy to see with the naked eye under the appropriate conditions and from the right vantage point.

Leonard detected the comet – named after him – in January 2021 using Catalina Sky Survey’s 1.5-meter (60-inch) telescope at the Mount Lemmon Infrared Observatory in the Santa Catalina Mountains of Arizona.

“The fact that the tail showed up in those images was remarkable, considering that the comet was about 465 million miles out at that point, about the same distance as Jupiter,” Leonard, a senior research specialist at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, told the school.

Since December, the comet has been making its way into the inner solar system, passing close to Earth on December 12 and Venus on December 17. According to Space.com, it is now en route to the sun, reaching perihelion (the point nearest the sun in the comet’s path) on January 3.

“It will skim across the west-southwestern horizon between now up until around Christmas time. The fact that it’s so close to the horizon makes this comet a bit challenging to observe,” Leonard said.

Space.com offers a guide to viewing Comet Leonard, which can be accessed here.

“There’s a chance Venus will pass close enough to the comet’s route to pick up dust grains in its atmosphere, resulting in a meteor shower on our neighboring planet,” Leonard said.

The weather in the DFW Metroplex looks somewhat favorable in terms of viewing the comet, with some cloud coverage, passing clouds, and temperatures near 80 at sunset on Christmas night.

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