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Comet Leonard shines amid aurora and meteor shower in stunning footage by Chinese spacecraft

Comet Leonard visible in an image captured by a small Chinese satellite on a backdrop of polar lights.
Comet Leonard visible in an image captured by a small Chinese satellite on a backdrop of polar lights. (Image credit: Origin Space)

A small space telescope launched by a Chinese space resources company captured an epic shot of the brightest comet of the year on the backdrop of an aurora and passing meteors.

Yangwang 1, a small satellite belonging to Chinese space resources company Origin Space, took the image while Comet Leonard was making its closest approach to Earth on Dec. 12. The comet, which will make its closest pass at the sun on Jan. 3, will then disappear for 80,000 years.

If you're looking to catch a look, check our guide for the best telescopes and binoculars guide for Comet Leonard. Our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography guides have tips on gear you might need to snap photos, as well.

Related: Comet Leonard will light up the sky this month — here's how to see it

The colorized image shows the comet, formally named C/2021 A1, with its extended tail, but also captures space phenomena including a meteor, seen streaking below the comet, the shorter trails of two satellites, airglow, and aurora.

The Yangwang-1 space telescope, launched earlier this year, observes the universe around our planet in visible and ultraviolet light in search for near-Earth asteroids that could potentially be mined for resources. The satellite, China's first commercial astronomical space mission, is available also to non-commercial users for professional research and public outreach purposes, according to Origin Space.

In orbit since June 2021, the satellite has already compiled an impressive gallery of auroral images and meteor streaks. In August 2021, the mission captured a stunning aurora australis above the southern Pacific Ocean, which is otherwise difficult to access for human observers. 

Yangwang-1 is the first step in Origin Space's ambitious plans to capture a small asteroid in 2025.

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Andrew Jones

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI.