How to Spot Leonard, the Brightest Comet of the Year

Home Technology How to Spot Leonard, the Brightest Comet of the Year
How to Spot Leonard, the Brightest Comet of the Year
A stunning view of comet Leonard, as seen in the skies above the Eastern Sierra mountains of California. Dan Bartlett created the picture from 62 different images captured by a mid-sized telescope.
A stunning view of comet Leonard, as seen in the skies above the Eastern Sierra mountains of California. Dan Bartlett created the picture from 62 different images captured by a mid-sized telescope.
Image: Dan Bartlett

The time has arrived for skywatchers to look up and catch a glimpse of comet Leonard. Here’s how you can find this gigantic ball of ice and dust.

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Senior research specialist Greg J. Leonard discovered the comet that now bears his name on January 3, from the Mount Lemmon Observatory in Arizona. Comet Leonard (or more formally, C/2021 A1) is en route to the inner solar system, and, as is customary of inbound comets, it’s increasingly shedding its surface materials into space. Leonard’s closest approach to the Sun—its perihelion—will happen on January 3, 2022, after which time it will begin its long journey to the outer solar system.

The window for viewing Leonard without super-sophisticated astronomical equipment is now open. Spotting the comet with binoculars and amateur telescopes should be relatively easy. Leonard might even be visible to the unaided eye, but cometary behavior and brightness are difficult to predict.

“Right now, Leonard sports a small but lush dust tail,” according to Sky & Telescope. “If its dust production rate climbs in the coming weeks as the comet approaches the Sun and becomes more active, two special circumstances—an orbital plane crossing and a high phase angle—may boost its brightness above predictions.”