Look up to see the brilliant Comet Leonard this month before it’s gone forever

By Ashley Strickland, CNN

There’s a new comet in town, and December is your only chance to see it before it’s gone forever. Astronomers say Comet Leonard is our best and brightest comet to see in 2021.

The comet was first discovered in January by astronomer Greg Leonard. The celestial object has probably spent the last 35,000 years traveling toward the sun, according to Sky & Telescope, and once it passes near our star on January 3, we won’t see the comet again.

As the comet approaches the sun, it gets brighter, which is why the weeks leading up to this event make the comet easier to see.

It’s also a super-fast comet, traversing the inner solar system at 158,084 miles per hour (71 kilometers per second), but it will still appear as a slowly moving object due to its distance from Earth, according to EarthSky.

Comet Leonard will approach closest to Earth on December 12, less than 34 million kilometers from our planet. Then, it will pass near Venus on December 18. The comet will be visible in the skies of the northern and southern hemispheres this month.

It’s hard to predict how well we’ll be able to see a comet, but you’ll likely need binoculars to spot this one, according to NASA. Keep an eye out for an object that looks like a fuzzy star.

“During the first two weeks of December, Comet Leonard can be found in the east before sunrise, passing between Arcturus and Ursa Major Cove,” the agency said in an article. “It is approaching the horizon just as it comes closest to Earth, which means it will likely be brighter but more difficult to observe.” It then becomes an evening object around December 14, just a little while after sunset – as it begins its long journey outward from the Sun again, gradually decreasing in brightness.

As comets close to the sun, these giant ice balls begin to lose some of their matter, which forms a halo, or coma, around the object. Dust and gas flow behind comets to form their extremely long tails. Most comets originate from the icy edge of our solar system and only become visible to us as they travel through the inner solar system, where Earth is located, during their long solar orbits.

Comet Leonard may be visible to sky watchers watching with the naked eye, but if you’re worried about missing out on this unique visual experience, the Virtual Telescope Project will share a live feed from its observatory in Rome.

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