A live webcast will track a newly found comet as it passes through a dense collection of stars visible in Earth’s sky.
The bright comet C / 2021 A1 (Leonard), also known as Comet Leonard, will fly through the globular cluster Messier 3 in Canes Venatici tonight (December 2). Both objects will be visible in binoculars from dark sky locations and will be close enough to be seen in the field of view of a single telescope for a few hours.
But for those who find it too cold, light polluted, or inconvenient to view the flyby, the Rome-based Virtual Telescope Project will broadcast the event starting at 10 p.m. EST Thursday (0300 GMT Friday, 3 December). Editor’s Note: This webcast depends on the good weather on the observing site.
“At that very moment, the two objects will be very close, apparently, in the sky,” project founder Gianluca Masi told Space.com in an email. “We will see the comet’s tail moving slowly in front of the cluster.”
Comet Leonard will be a great target for amateur astronomers in the December night sky. If you need a binocular telescope to view planets in the sky, check out our guide for the best binocular deals and the best telescope deals available right now. Our best cameras for astrophotography and the best lenses for astrophotography can also help you choose the best imaging equipment to detect the comet.
Related: Photos: Spectacular Views of Comets from Earth and Space
(Image credit: Steven Bellavia)
If the transmission is lost, there are still two other possibilities in which you can capture the comet in its prime: one using your astronomy equipment and the other through a second event with the Virtual Telescope Project.
On Friday night (December 3) during EST hours, the comet will pass by the fainter globular cluster NGC 5466, also known as Snowglobe Cluster, in the night sky. Then on Tuesday (December 7), the Virtual Telescope Project plans a second broadcast focused on Leonard.
That webcast will begin at 11 p.m. EST (0400 GMT) when Earth is close to the comet’s orbital plane or its path through space, which should provide a relatively bright view, according to Masi.
(Image credit: Starry Night)
There is a possibility that the December 8 broadcast will include a view of Leonard’s “anti-tail,” Masi said. It is a light spike opposite the comet’s normally visible tail of gas and dust. This feature is a thin layer of dust blown off by comets, best seen when the Earth moves through the comet’s orbital plane.
The comet was found by astronomer Gregory J. Leonard on January 3 at the Mount Lemmon Infrared Observatory, approximately 17 miles (27 km) northeast of Tucson, Arizona.
Leonard has not yet reached full brightness; Comets are rare to be bright to the naked eye, but hobbyist astronomers are on the lookout just in case.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
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