February 1, 2023

Comet Leonard will light up the sky this month — here’s how to see it

It is uncommon to see a comet at its finest: Most comets are brightest nearby the sun, just when theyre most challenging to find versus the suns glare or hidden listed below the horizon. Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) is, alas, no exception. It needs to be noticeable in small telescopes and binoculars and quite perhaps even poorly to the unaided eye in the Northern Hemispheres pre-dawn sky as it increases in brightness for at part of December, and later in the month maybe even briefly in the night sky, just after sunset.Astronomer Gregory J. Leonard, a senior research specialist, found the comet that now bears his name on Jan. 3 at the Mount Lemmon Infrared Observatory, situated in the Santa Catalina Mountains, approximately 17 miles northeast of Tucson, Arizona. Related: Night sky, December 2021: What you can see this month [maps] Given that its discovery, the comet has been approaching both the sun and Earth but has been a very dim things. The majority of comets remain too faint for amateur telescopes to capture, but for a short while in December, Comet Leonard should rise unusual. The icy ball has come a long way to make this pre-Christmas look to us. About 35,000 years earlier, the comet was at the back of its extended elliptical orbit– aphelion– some 3,500 huge systems from the sun. One astronomical system (AU) is the equivalent of the Earths average distance from the sun: 92,955,807 miles (149,565,894 kilometers). 35 centuries back, Comet Leonard resided some 325 billion miles (525 billion km) from the sun, covered in a practically unimaginably cold environment, hovering just a portion of a degree above outright no, the temperature level at which all molecular motion stops. Now, Comet Leonard is in the home stretch of what likely will be its extremely last visit to the sun, and its collection of icy gases like ammonia, methane and water vapor is reacting to the increasing heat of the sun.December is Leonards month Stargazer Steven Bellavia records this image of Comet Leonard and Leonid meteor on Nov. 13, 2021 from Mattituck, New York. (Image credit: Steven Bellavia) Comet Leonards brightness must visibly ramp up as it approaches the Earth. In the early days of December, observers who are up around the break of dawn (approximately 5:30 a.m. local time), ought to focus on the eastern sky about halfway up from the horizon to the point straight overhead. Now, with binoculars, scan that part of the sky roughly midway in between the 3rd-magnitude star Cor Caroli in the constellation Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs) and the 3rd-magnitude star Muphrid in the prolonged foot of Boötes the Herdsman. There, you must encounter a circular, fuzzy, 6th-magnitude glow maybe sporting a tail. That will be Comet Leonard. For most of us, the second week of December is when Comet Leonard ought to be most fascinating, providing the very best compromise in between increasing brightness and reducing altitude at the start of dawn. The sky will be complimentary of moonlight, as it will be soon after the brand-new moon of Dec. 4. On the early morning of Dec. 6, about 2 hours before daybreak, look toward the eastern sky. You will right away notice the brilliant orange-yellow star, Arcturus in the constellation of Boötes the Herdsman. Now, with field glasses, scan that part of the sky about 5 degrees to the left of Arcturus and you must see Comet Leonard. The comets dust tail, which started to extend significantly during early November, need to be pointing practically directly. The comets magnitude is forecast to be +5.5; brilliant sufficient to be glimpsed without any optical aid in a dark sky devoid of light contamination. The comet will then be 31.9 million miles (51 million km) from Earth and approaching us by about 1.5 million miles (2.4 million km) each day, so it will be brightening noticeably, however it will also drop rapidly lower in the eastern sky with each passing day. Comet NEOWISE, seen here with the International Space Station, stunned skywatchers in 2020; this year, Comet Leonard takes the phase. (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls) By the early morning of Dec. 12, Comet Leonard will have lightened up to magnitude +4.3, however will be just 10 degrees above the eastern horizon at the start of early morning twilight. (Your clenched fist at arms length steps roughly 10 degrees.) According to NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, the comet will be making its closest technique to Earth that same day, reaching just 21,687,279 miles (34,902,292 km) away at 10:54 a.m. EST (1354 GMT). That day will mark the end of its early morning exposure, however Comet Leonard will return for several “cameo looks” in the night sky. On Dec. 17, it will be moving 5 ° below dazzling Venus. With binoculars, try to find it very low towards the southwest horizon about an hour after sunset. Forward scatter may enhance exposure Some skywatchers are hoping that the comet will over-perform in terms of brightness expectations, due to a phenomenon called “forward scatter.” In such a circumstance, a back-lit comet can appear considerably brighter since the dust and ice crystals originating from the comets nucleus scatter light toward the observer. Throughout the middle part of December, Comet Leonard will be at an extremely favorable phase angle relative to the sun and Earth, recommending that it might get 1 to 2 magnitudes brighter than what current predictions recommend; put another method, the comet might go beyond brightness quotes by 2.5 to 6.3 times. Comets that have benefited from forward scattering include Skjellerup-Maristany in 1927, West in 1976, Bradfield in 1980 and McNaught in 2007. All 4 comets surged in brightness and ended up being much brighter than expected. Not all comets respond positively to forward-scattering. Will Comet Leonard advantage? We can just see and watch what happens. The comet will likely be lost to see after Christmas, reaching its closest indicate the sun on Jan. 3 at a range of 57.2 million miles (92 million km). Once it rounds the sun it will be thrown out of the planetary system into a somewhat hyperbolic orbit, never to be seen again.Editors Note: If you snap an incredible night sky photo and want to share it with Space.coms readers, send your images, comments, and your name and area to [email protected] Rao works as an instructor and visitor lecturer at New Yorks Hayden Planetarium. He discusses astronomy for Natural History publication, the Farmers Almanac and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook..

Now, with field glasses, scan that part of the sky about 5 degrees to the left of Arcturus and you need to see Comet Leonard. (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls) By the morning of Dec. 12, Comet Leonard will have brightened to magnitude +4.3, but will be only 10 degrees above the eastern horizon at the start of morning golden. That day will mark the end of its early morning presence, but Comet Leonard will return for several “cameo looks” in the evening sky. Throughout the middle part of December, Comet Leonard will be at an extremely beneficial stage angle relative to the sun and Earth, suggesting that it may get 1 to 2 magnitudes brighter than what present forecasts suggest; put another method, the comet might go beyond brightness price quotes by 2.5 to 6.3 times. Comets that have actually benefited from forward scattering include Skjellerup-Maristany in 1927, West in 1976, Bradfield in 1980 and McNaught in 2007.

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