Science

Comet Leonard makes its closest approach to the sun today, a year after its discovery

The brightest comet in the night sky right now makes its closest approach to the sun on Monday (January 3) and, even if it survives the trip, it will be the only time the comet sees our star up close.

That icy wanderer is Comet Leonard, which unexpectedly got brighter in late December as it neared the sun, according to EarthSky. Sky watchers even got a chance to see the comet and the planet Venus in the same binocular view when Leonard got closer to Venus on December 17.

Comet Leonard, also known as Comet C / 2021 A1, was discovered on January 3, 2021 and is a great target for amateur astronomers. If you’re looking for a binocular telescope for objects like this, check out our guide for the best binocular deals and the best telescope deals right now. Our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography guides also have tips on how to choose the best imaging equipment for taking pictures.

Do you want to see Comet Leonard? Here are recommendations for telescopes and binoculars.

Leonard’s perihelion, or the closest approach to the sun in its orbit, coincidentally occurs a few hours before Earth’s perihelion on Tuesday, January 4, at 1:52 am EST (0652 GMT). But Leonard’s journey will be much closer than Earth’s.

The comet will approach our sun at a distance of about 56 million miles (90 million kilometers), which is about half the distance from Earth to the sun. Leonard will have to survive the intense gravitational pull of the sun at that distance, along with the solar wind. So, like many other comets that move so close to the sun, there is a risk that Leonard will collapse. But even if the comet survives the trip, NASA said in a statement, “its trajectory will throw it into interstellar space, never to return.”

Related: Comet Discoverer Leonard Shares Tips For Spotting It In The Night Sky Now

Comet Leonard, known as Comet C / 2021 A1 (Leonard), will reach perihelion, its closest point to the sun, on January 3, 2022. (Image credit: NASA / JPL)

NASA notes that Leonard made a 40,000-year journey to our sun from the outer solar system, but the comet was only discovered on January 3, 2021, just a year before perihelion.

“That’s strictly a coincidence, but I like the coincidence,” comet discoverer Gregory Leonard, a senior research specialist at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, told Space.com in December.

Editor’s Note: If you take an amazing photo of a comet or night sky and would like to share it with Space.com readers, please send your photos, comments, and your name and location to spacepramio@.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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