Christmas Comet: When to Look for Leonard in Santa Monica

SANTA MONICA, CA – It’s time to scan the skies over Santa Monica to see Comet Leonard, which astronomers expect to show its tail as it approaches our planet and the sun in its eons-long orbit .

Because of the timing of his rapprochement, Leonard was called the “Christmas Comet”. It will be closest to Earth on December 12th, but you may be able to see it in the days before and after – although the longer you wait before it leaves our solar system, the harder it is to see Comet Leonard.

Remember, comets are “notoriously difficult to predict in terms of brightness and visibility,” according to NASA. They’re brightest when they’re closest to the sun, and their glare makes them difficult to see.

The weather also plays a decisive role. AccuWeather says the sky will be partly cloudy.

Still, astronomers say Comet Leonard (C / 2021 A1) could be as spectacular as Comet Neowise in 2020, and sky watchers could see the Christmas Comet through small telescopes or binoculars.

“There’s a chance it’s bright enough to see with the naked eye,” NASA said in a discussion about glasses in the December sky, “but with comets, you really never know.”

The comet comes closest to Earth – by near we mean 21,687,279 miles away – at 10:54 a.m. EST on December 12, a time of day bathed in daylight. So dawn is the best time to see it.

Look up at the eastern sky just before sunrise. The comet will pass between Arcturus – the fourth brightest star in the night sky and the brightest in the northern constellation Boötes – and the handle of the Big Dipper.

The sky is free of moonlight when Leonard is brightest. That should allow some views of the comet’s dust tail, which elongated noticeably in early November. It should be pointing straight up.

“It is approaching the horizon around the time it is closest to Earth, which means it will likely be brighter but more difficult to observe,” according to NASA. “From December 14th, it will become an evening object for a short time after sunset – when it begins its long journey from the sun to the outside again and the brightness gradually decreases.”

Astronomer Gregory J. Leonard discovered the comet that now bears his name on January 3, 2021 from the Mount Lemmon Infrared Observatory, located in the Santa Catalina Mountains about 17 miles from Tucson, Arizona.

Leonard, a senior research specialist at the observatory, saw a tail – what astronomers say is a promising sign that a treat is ahead as the comet moves closer and closer to Earth and Sun.

Comet Leonard was only discovered last year, but the icy sphere has been making its way into our planet’s solar system since the Paleolithic.

It began its journey 35,000 years ago when it was at the other end of its elongated elliptical orbit, called aphelion, about 325 billion miles from the Sun, “enveloped in an almost unimaginably cold environment and only a fraction of a degree above it” . absolute zero, the temperature at which all molecular movement stops, “says Space.com.

“Comet Leonard is now on the home stretch of what will probably be its last visit to the sun, and its conglomerate of icy gases such as methane, ammonia and water vapor reacts to the increasing warmth of the sun.”

The comet will come closest to the Sun around January 3rd. At this point it will be about 90 million miles away.

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