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Catch a glimpse of Comet Leonard before it leaves the solar system

Published: Monday, December 20, 2021 - 12:27pm
Updated: Monday, December 20, 2021 - 6:22pm
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If you’ve looked up in the sky at the right time and in the right direction over the last 10 days, you may have gotten a glimpse of the Comet Leonard, which is named after University of Arizona research specialist Gregory Leonard.

Leonard first discovered the comet, also known as Comet C/2021 A1, nearly a year ago — somewhat accidentally — as part of the Catalina Sky Survey project. Here’s how he describes it.

“The Catalina Sky Survey is a NASA-funded project out of the University of Arizona. We are tasked to discover and track near-Earth asteroids, which we do very successfully and productively on most clear nights out of the year,” Leonard said.

Comet Leonard is of course a comet, not an asteroid. But it was on a path that would bring it near Earth. It’s actually one of 13 comets Leonard has discovered, and thus, has had named after him, but it is one of the most unique and, as he says, special. In fact, it’s his favorite one.

“Finding this comet, for me, is like hitting the cosmic jackpot," Leonard said. "It’s very rare that we get comets that come anywhere near naked eye visibility.”

Leonard said the other 12 comets named after him, as well as most others discovered by astronomers around the world, you can’t see with the naked eye. That will be the case for this comet Leonard soon, now that it has whizzed past Earth at 44 miles per second and has made its way toward Venus. It’s on its way to the sun, and from there, eventually, out of our solar system. That’s not to say you can’t still track it down.

“My recommendation would be to get out of the glare of city and town lights … [use] binoculars, preferably … or a telescope … use Venus as your guide," Leonard said.

Leonard added that if you can’t get out and see the comet for yourself, there are some awe-inspiring photos of it out there that can give you a good idea of what it looks like.

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