Leonard’s comet approaches earth; The brightest comet of the year

Comet Leonard has been found as the best comet of the year 2021, which, is expected to be the brightest comet ever. The comet is currently heading sunward, toward its perihelion (closest point to the sun) on January 3, 2022. 

Since the discovery of astronomer Greg Leonard in January 2021, the comet has been approaching the Sun and Earth but is a very faint object. 

The comet named C/2021 A1 (Leonard), is a long-period comet, meaning it doesn’t come around often. In fact, the comet hasn’t passed by Earth in over 70,000 years, and after it passes by the sun, it will be ejected from our solar system, never to be seen on Earth again.

C/2021 A1 has been inside the orbit of Neptune since May 2009. Using an epoch of 1950 which is well before the comet entered the planetary region of the Solar System, a barycentric orbit solution suggests the comet had roughly an 80 thousand year orbital period. Therefore the it had spent the last 40 thousand years inbound from approximately 3,700 AU (550 billion Km). After perihelion, the comet will be ejected from the Solar System. The barycentric orbit will remain hyperbolic after September 2022.

Comets Formation

The leftover piece of rock and ice in the solar system formes a comet that later orbits the sun. The celestial rocks range from just a few miles to tens of miles wide. When one of the floating rocks gets close to the sun, it heats up enough that it spews gas and dust, leaving behind that familiar tail in the sky. 

When astronomer Gregory J. Leonard spotted the comet, it was extremely dim, out near Jupiter, and was just starting to release its heated up gas and dust. The comet has spent roughly 35,000 years getting closer to our sun and has finally made its way closer to Earth’s neck of the universe. 

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As the comet is approaching earth, on Dec. 13, the comet can be observed in the morning sky using binoculars or a telescope. On Dec. 12, it will be 21.7 million miles away from Earth, the closest it will get to the planet. If you are able to get away from light pollution, you’ll have a better chance to see it.