SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — A newly discovered comet will be making its closest pass to the earth and sun mid December 2021.
Comet Leonard was discovered by Greg Leonard at the University of Arizona on January 3, 2021 and is named for him.
This comet was previously unknown to astronomers because of its orbital shape and size. It is estimated that this comet last passed by earth about 70,000 years ago.
Comet Leonard spent approximately 35,000 years moving away from the solar system and has spent about the last 35,000 years moving toward the solar system, our corner of the Milky Way galaxy.
After comet Leonard makes its closest pass near earth on December 12th, when it will be 21 million miles away. On January 3, 2022 comet Leonard will be at its closest point to the sun. Then the comet will be ejected from its current orbit around the solar system. Comet Leonard will never be seen from earth again because of the trajectory change.
In the coming days, comet Leonard will continue to be viewable with telescopes and powerful binoculars from earth. Closer to December 12th and after, it is expected to become visible, like a slightly brighter star, without the use of instruments.
To see the comet with or without instruments, it will be viewable in the eastern to northeastern sky before dawn and in areas away from city light pollution until December 13th.
On December 14th, comet Leonard will begin to pull away from the earth and will again fade away into the darkness of outer space. Until it fully fades away, it will be viewable in the southwestern evening sky after sunset near Venus.
It is difficult to predict best viewing and brightness of comets since they can quickly change course and speed due to gravitational forcing from plants and the sun. Also with viewing anything in the night sky, the weather is a factor if we have clear or cloudy conditions.
While the view of comet Leonard from earth is not going to be as great as comets that have passed near the earth in the past, it will be the brightest comet of 2021.