Comet Leonard (C/2021 A1), which appeared to stall out round magnitude 5 in early December, has develop into a shock performer. Since transitioning to the night sky, it’s undergone three successive vivid outbursts — on December fifteenth, twentieth, and twenty third — that catapulted it to naked-eye visibility at third magnitude. After every flare-up, the comet had pale again to round 4th magnitude. Today, December twenty fifth, it’s round 3½. More outbursts are doubtless 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.
Each flare started with a dramatic brightening of the comet’s “false nucleus” — a vivid 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 utterly off guard. Expecting to see a fuzzy glow, the coma as a substitute seemed like a vivid “star” in her 90-mm refractor. The trigger of every outburst is probably going attributable to vaporization of recent, dust-laden ice from solar heating because the comet dashes sunward.
Comet Leonard at the moment glows round magnitude 4 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 for those who 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.
You’ll additionally must know precisely the place to look, and there are few vivid 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 twentieth and twenty fourth. The digicam did higher, exhibiting it extra clearly than I might see with my eyes. Given the comet’s southern declination, Southern Hemisphere observers have one of the best view, with this celestial customer standing 20° (and climbing) 90 minutes after sundown from mid-southern latitudes.
If you’re struggling to search out the comet, take a photograph of the place it’s presupposed to be. That’s what labored finest for me. When it pops up in your show (replay) display, you’ll know precisely the place to level your telescope or binoculars.
Comet Leonard’s ion tail has proven exceptional complexity that you could see for your self in breathtaking photos taken by Austrian astrophotographer Michael Jäger and others. Continuous adjustments in tail size, together with the looks of streamers, kinks, and knots, present simply how charming and unpredictable comets may be. And all this from a kilometer-wide berg of soiled ice. Miracles of nature by no means stop.