Perhaps it is that early Christmas present that sky watchers have been waiting for. After months of impatience, this year’s most promising comet – Comet Leonard – is finally approaching Earth and could potentially become visible through binoculars and even with the naked eye.
“Chances are you can easily see this comet with the naked eye, even if in less than optimal conditions,” says astronomer Gianluca Masi, who is part of the Italy-based virtual telescope project. And quite true, he was spotted in Italy on Monday night / early Tuesday.
Even if it’s not with the naked eye (yet!), You can see the luminous Lenny with a pair of binoculars. By now, many astrophotographers have managed to snap cute photos of Leonard sporting a smart green coma with an impressive elongated tail.
What makes Leonard so special?
When discovered on January 3, 2021 by Greg Leonard, the senior research scientist at Mount Lemmon Observatory in Arizona, Comet C / 2021 A1 was heading towards our planet from deep space with the potential to ‘be the brightest comet of 2021. Now, with no other comet to beat our superstar, Comet Leonard (as it is better known as its discoverer) is set to claim the title of this year’s brightest comet .
If he lives up to the forecast, then Leonard will pass close to Earth in December when he is likely to be visible with binoculars or maybe even without them. He has a pretty long journey after saying “hello” to us Terrans. It heads towards a close passage of the Sun, then returns to deep space in January.
But then, astronomers and most sky watchers now know that you shouldn’t expect too much of comets. Notoriously fickle celestial bodies may decide midway through the transition not to appear and disintegrate. Disappointment in bold. We hope Leonard doesn’t disappoint us – it took about 35,000 years through space to get close to us. A chance for us to witness a once in a lifetime cosmic event.
Can you see it from India?
As of now, Comet Leonard is below the horizon of India. Given its current magnitude, it will be visible using binoculars with an aperture of 40-50mm or a small telescope. You can spot it in the early hours of the day. TheSkyLive site and the comet Twitter ID can tell you the exact times according to your area. Sky Live tells us it should be up at 1:48 a.m., it will be in transit around 8:58 a.m., and it will set at around 4:12 p.m. IST – count or take a few minutes to factor in the weather conditions.
For clarity, rise and set times are defined as the time when the upper limb of the comet touches the horizon, taking into account the effect of atmospheric refraction.
So set your alarm clocks and look up into the sky. Despite the hazy haze, you might be able to this huge space snowball hurtle down the sky above you.