Comet Leonard: A Gift at Christmastime

Braided flows of fuel and dirt stream from the pinnacle of Comet Leonard in a photograph taken with an 8-inch telescope and QHY600 digicam on December 24, 2021. Compare this picture to the one under from two nights earlier.Michael Jäger and Lukas Demetz

Comet Leonard (C/2021 A1), which appeared to stall out round magnitude 5 in early December, has turn into a shock performer. Since transitioning to the night sky, it’s undergone three successive shiny outbursts — on December 15th, 20th, and 23rd — that catapulted it to naked-eye visibility at third magnitude. After every flare-up, the comet had light again to round 4th magnitude. Today, December 25th, it’s round 3½. More outbursts are possible as Comet Leonard speeds towards perihelion contained in the orbit of Venus on January third and suffers the total brunt of the Sun’s warmth.

In this deep publicity made on December 22, 2021, Comet Leonard shows a spectacular ion tail with kinks and a number of rays. Michael Jäger

Like water from a rotary garden sprinkler, mud jets blast from the comet’s false nucleus on this fastidiously processed picture from December 23, 2021. Michael Jäger, Lukas Demetz and Qi Yang

Each flare started with a dramatic brightening of the comet’s “false nucleus” — a shiny starlike focus throughout the coma. Amateur astronomer Piqui Diaz of Ezeiza, Argentina, famous a condensed however hazy coma on December 19.01 UT, however one evening later, the comet’s look caught her fully off guard. Expecting to see a fuzzy glow, the coma as a substitute regarded like a shiny “star” in her 90-mm refractor. The trigger of every outburst is probably going resulting from vaporization of contemporary, dust-laden ice from photo voltaic heating because the comet dashes sunward.

Comet Leonard exhibits off a fairly tail a number of levels lengthy on December 19, 2021, from Payson, Arizona. The comet’s altitude at the time was about 10°. Chris Schur

Comet Leonard at the moment glows round magnitude four and hovers very low within the southwestern sky an hour to 75 minutes after sundown for North American skywatchers. Its altitude relies upon upon your latitude. From the southern U.S. the comet perches an inexpensive 10° to 12° excessive at mid-twilight and could also be faintly seen with the bare eye. But should you reside within the northern half of the nation, it virtually scrapes the horizon with an altitude of simply 3° to five°. You’ll want clear skies, an unobstructed horizon, and binoculars or a small telescope to see it.

Comet Leonard shows a shiny, compact coma and quick, east-pointing tail on this picture taken with a 200-mm lens on the night of December 20, 2021, from close to Duluth, Minnesota. The comet’s altitude at the time was simply 3°. Bob King

You’ll additionally must know precisely the place to look, and there are few shiny stars to information you there. But don’t despair. Using the planets to make triangles that included the comet at one apex, I noticed the fuzzy blob in binoculars from Duluth, Minnesota (latitude 47° north) on each December 20th and 24th. The digicam did higher, exhibiting it extra clearly than I may see with my eyes. Given the comet’s southern declination, Southern Hemisphere observers have the most effective view, with this celestial customer standing 20° (and climbing) 90 minutes after sundown from mid-southern latitudes.

This map plots the placement of Comet Leonard (C/2021 A1) at 6:30 p.m. CST with respect to background stars on a number of evenings (00:30 Universal Time on the next date) in late December and early January. Stars are proven to magnitude 6. Use the brilliant planets and Fomalhaut to create a sample that will help you discover the comet in an in any other case star-poor area of the evening sky. Note that its obvious movement decreases quickly because it crosses from Microscopium into Grus. Also, regardless of the obvious upward development within the plotted positions, over this era the comet’s altitude truly decreases barely for observers at mid-northern latitudes.Stellarium with additions by Bob King

If you’re struggling to seek out the comet, take a photograph of the place it’s purported to be. That’s what labored finest for me. When it pops up in your show (replay) display screen, you’ll know precisely the place to level your telescope or binoculars.

Time is working out for observers within the northern U.S. Here’s an admittedly marginal picture taken on December 24th with a 200-mm lens 80 minutes after sundown from Duluth, Minnesota, to point out it’s nonetheless potential to see from northern locales. Comet Leonard stood simply 2.2° excessive; the star Gamma (γ) Microscopium seems at higher proper.Bob King

In this inverted picture, made with a 35-cm Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and STL11000M digicam on December 23rd, delicate rays of ionized fuel shoot “downwind” of Comet Leonard’s coma. “Comet Leonard could quite easily be seen with the naked eye when it was about 15° above the WSW horizon at the end of astronomical twilight,” writes John Drummond of Gisborne, New Zealand. “In 11 x 80 binocs the tail is quite magnificent, extending for about 2-3°.” John Drummond

Comet Leonard has skilled numerous tail disconnection occasions together with one in progress on this mosaic picture made on Dec. 26, 2021. The tail right here measures 9° lengthy.Michael Jäger and Lukas Demetz

Comet Leonard’s ion tail has proven outstanding complexity you can see for your self in breathtaking photos taken by Austrian astrophotographer Michael Jäger and others. Continuous modifications in tail size, together with the looks of streamers, kinks, and knots, present simply how fascinating and unpredictable comets will be. And all this from a kilometer-wide berg of soiled ice. Miracles of nature by no means stop.

Changes inside Leonard’s coma are obvious in these two photos taken a day aside with a 150-mm refractor and Canon 500D digicam from southwest of Tehran. Ali Ebrahimi Seraji

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