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How to Watch Once-In-A-Lifetime Comet Leonard Whiz Past Earth

If you have binoculars, you’ll want to use them. If you don’t, there’s still a chance you might be able to see the iceball zoom past.

comet leonard, 2021 comet
Javier Zayas PhotographyGetty Images

    “C/2021 A1”—known colloquially as Comet Leonard—is making its way through space, and will be most visible on Sunday, December 12. As in, you might be able to see it with your own naked eyes.

    But if you have binoculars, you might be able to catch the frozen ball of space gas and rocks in action now as it follows a trajectory around the sun. If you don't have them, these and these are great picks.

    The European Space Agency (ESA) reports that, even at Leonard’s closest point to Earth, it will still be a whopping 21.7 million miles away. Luckily for us, Leonard is not a near-Earth Comet (NEC)—which can be dangerous. Like asteroids, if an NEC strikes our planet, the impact could be devastating. And although it might seem like trying to catch a glimpse of Leonard when it’s closest to us is your best shot of seeing the comet, visibility will be low due to the sun’s glare.

    Visibility might also be impacted by the fact that Leonard is acting weird—the comet is losing brightness. Late last month, observers began noticing the comet’s dimming, which could signify that it’s doomed to disintegrate. Still, nothing’s certain just yet.

    “The comet still seems to be okay—morphologically it looks fine,” Quanzhi Ye, an astronomer at the University of Maryland, told Still, Ye said that continued dimming is indicative that “something unhealthy is happening to the comet.”

    C/2021 A1 was discovered by—and named after—Greg Leonard, a researcher at the University of Arizona, while at the Mount Lemmon Observatory in January 2021. For those in the Northern Hemisphere, Leonard is visible in the eastern sky with the help of binoculars from pretty much “anywhere in Canada in the early morning” per the CBC.

    For the rest of us, prime viewing opportunities might be Friday and Saturday morning at approximately 6 a.m., pending clear skies. If you miss these dates, you can try again on Monday, December 13 after the sun sets.

    The ESA doesn’t expect Leonard to return once it’s gone, so this is likely a once-in-a lifetime event. Don’t miss out, set your alarms now!

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