Christmas Comet: Coming To PA, Then Gone For 80K Years
THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA — It’s time to start looking up in the sky over Pennsylvania for comet Leonard, which is expected to show off its tail as it approaches our planet and the sun in its eons-long cycle.
Leonard has been dubbed the “Christmas comet” due to the time of its close approach. According to AccuWeather, it was closest to Earth on Dec. 12, but it remains visible for days afterward, and viewing prospects may be exceptional on Friday, Dec. 17.
According to AccuWeather, the rare comet will appear directly below Venus in the early evening hours of Friday, after an 80,000-year hiatus.
Visibility may be limited in several sections of the state due to the forecast. According to the National Weather Service, conditions in the Philadelphia area could become gloomy and rainy as the night progresses into the early morning, so an earlier evening might be the best option.
Rain is also expected in the western section of the state, around Pittsburgh, after 9 p.m., so the earlier you get there, the better.
Keep in mind that, according to NASA, comets are “notoriously difficult to predict in terms of brightness and visibility.” When they’re closest to the sun, they’re brightest, but the glare makes them difficult to see.
Despite this, astronomers believe that comet Leonard (C/2021 A1) will be as beautiful as comet Neowise in 2020 and that skygazers will be able to observe the Christmas comet with tiny telescopes or binoculars.
In a debate about spectacles in the December sky, NASA remarked, “There’s a chance it may be brilliant enough to view with the unaided eye, but again, with comets, you just never know.”
On Dec. 12, at 10:54 a.m. EST, the comet comes closest to Earth — by close, we mean 21,687,279 miles — at a time of day when the Earth is drenched in daylight. As a result, the ideal time to see it is during the early twilight.
Just before sunrise, take a look at the eastern sky. The comet will travel between the handle of the Big Dipper and Arcturus, the fourth brightest star in the night sky and the brightest in the northern constellation of Boötes.
When Leonard is at its brightest, the sky will be devoid of moonlight. The comet’s dust tail, which began to dramatically grow in early November, should be visible. It needs to be pointed straight up.
According to NASA, “it hits the horizon right at the period of closest approach to Earth, meaning it’ll likely be brighter but more difficult to detect.” “After roughly December 14th, it transitions to being an evening object for a brief period after the Sunsets — when it resumes its lengthy journey outward from the Sun, gradually diminishing in brightness.”
On Jan. 3, 2021, astronomer Gregory J. Leonard found the comet that now bears his name from the Mount Lemmon Infrared Observatory in the Santa Catalina Mountains, about 17 miles southwest of Tucson, Arizona.
A tail was seen by Leonard, a senior research specialist at the observatory, which scientists say is a sign that we’re in for a treat when the comet approaches Earth and the sun.
Although Comet Leonard was only spotted last year, the frozen ball has been orbiting our globe since the Paleolithic age.
According to Space.com, it began its journey 35,000 years ago, when it was at the far end of its elongated elliptical orbit, known as the aphelion, 325 billion miles from the sun, “enveloped in an almost unimaginably cold environment, hovering just a fraction of a degree above absolute zero, the temperature at which all molecular motion stops.”
“Now, Comet Leonard is nearing the end of what will almost certainly be its final visit to the sun, and its frozen gases like methane, ammonia, and water vapor are reacting to the sun’s glowing warmth.”
Around Jan. 3, the comet will make its closest approach to the sun. At that moment, it will be around 56 million miles away.