Comet Leonard, the brightest comet of the year, made its closest approach to Earth today (Dec. 12) and should be visible through binoculars and telescopes, weather permitting.
Officially known as Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard), Comet Leonard was discovered in January by astronomer Gregory J. Leonard of the Mount Lemmon Infrared Observatory in Arizona. On Sunday, it passed Earth at a range of 21 million miles (34 million km), but is still not visible to the unaided eye, according to EarthSky.org.
Comet Leonard is a once-in-a-lifetime comet for stargazers as its orbit takes about 80,000 years to round the sun. If you're looking for a telescope of binoculars to see planets in the sky, check out our guide for the best binoculars deals and the best telescope deals available now. Our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography can also help you pick the best imaging gear to spot the next comet.
Want to see Comet Leonard? Here are telescope and binoculars recommendations
On Sunday (tonight), Comet Leonard can be found about 30 minutes after sunset in just above the western horizon, according to a NASA guide. You'll be able to look for it again early Monday (Dec. 13), when the comet will rise above the eastern horizon at 6:37 a.m. EST, just 12 minutes after the dawn twilight breaks.
"This will be the last morning the comet will be visible in the morning sky until March of 2022 when it will only be visible through a large telescope," NASA officials wrote in the guide.
Monday evening, Comet Leonard will be visible about 8 degrees above the west-southwestern horizon about 30 minutes after sunset and should be about 2 degrees above the horizon as evening twilight ends at 5:50 p.m. EST, NASA added. "This again should be a good time to look for this comet," NASA wrote. (Note: Your closed fist held out at arm's length covers about 10 degrees of the night sky.)
When, or even if, Comet Leonard will become visible to the unaided eye is still uncertain. The comet is still falling inward toward the sun and will make its closest sun approach on Jan. 3, 2022.
"Depending on the dust and gas, the modeled peak brightness is expected to be around Dec. 13 or 14, 2021, about 1 to 2 days after its closest to the Earth," NASA wrote in its guide. "If the comet is giving off a lot of dust, this should make the peak brighter due to forward scattering which could shift the peak later toward Dec.14."
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