Science

Do you want to see Comet Leonard? Here are the best telescopes and binoculars to spot it this month.

Are you eager to try out your new astronomy gear or are you planning to buy a set?

Comet C / 2021 A1 (Leonard), also known as Comet Leonard, is visible with binoculars and telescopes and will likely be relatively bright in the coming days, although we cannot say for sure as the comet’s brightness is always unpredictable.

However, Comet Leonard’s path through space should allow for good views. On Tuesday (December 7), the Earth will pass through Leonard’s orbital plane or trajectory, which will make the comet appear particularly bright thanks to its position relative to us.

All About Space content director Gemma Lavender is an experienced hobbyist astronomer who also knows the best equipment for beginners, so we caught up with her for some recommendations.

More generally, 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.

Below is Lavender’s list of recommended products to catch Leonard’s Comet this weekend; We also offer some tips on how to get the most out of your new astronomy equipment.

Related: Photos: Spectacular Views of Comets from Earth and Space

Comet Leonard telescopes and binoculars

What will Comet Leonard look like?

When you first look at Comet Leonard, don’t expect to see the same view as the Hubble Space Telescope or other large observatories, which often use tools like time-lapse photography and (obviously) have light-gathering capabilities. outreach of the amateur community.

“It is very easy to think that you will see a comet as it appears in magazines, books and pictures online, with a bright comma and two solid tails,” Lavender told Space.com.

“While there are some notable exceptions, such as Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997 and recently Comet NEOWISE, both of which can be seen with the naked eye, comets can appear as grayish-white patches with little or no tails,” he continued. .

The human eye, he noted, is different from a camera, whose sensor is much more sensitive to light. Cameras can also enhance comet colors with filters: “This is why you will often see comets that are green or blue in photos.”

How do you find Comet Leonard in the night sky?

This sky map shows the path of Comet Leonard in the night sky in December 2021. (Image credit: Starry Night)

To a beginner, the night sky can seem like a cacophony of places to go, making focusing difficult. Fortunately, the reference technology in telescopes will often do most of the orientation for you, but seasoned amateur astronomers still say that it is worth learning how to navigate the sky.

To get your bearings, Lavender recommends using astronomy software like Starry Night or mobile night sky apps like Star Walk 2. Printed sky maps are also helpful, as long as you can keep them dry. Just make sure to protect your night vision, she says.

“You use a red lantern to preserve [your vision] if you’re using a night sky map, or use a red light filter on your smartphone screen if you’re using a night sky app, “says Lavender.

Space.com’s guide to Comet Leonard will allow you to look in the correct area of ​​the sky. Lavender then suggests using binoculars to point out where the comet is, since it’s easier to sweep a field of view than to use a telescope.

If you have a camera, Lavender has another trick to suggest. “Take a quick 10-second exposure of the sky area with a camera (some smartphones have this capability) to help you find Leonard’s location,” she says.

Make a purchase choice to see Leonard’s Comet

Now that you know what to expect from kite watching and which products Lavender recommends, how do you decide what to buy? Lavender has some helpful tips to help you discover quality products from the rest of the articles out there.

Size and Stability – Prioritize a stable platform for observations (such as a tripod) along with a large aperture size. Of course, the larger aperture sizes will come in telescopes, but they are less portable and more expensive than binoculars. “The size of the aperture is essential for viewing kites – the larger the aperture, the more light the instrument can pick up and the better the views,” says Lavender.

Excellent optics: “A good telescope should have multilayer optics for optimal light transmission, while I recommend BAK4 prisms, or Barium Crown glass, as a must-have for high-quality binoculars.”

When to buy binoculars: “Binoculars are definitely best if you are on a budget and want something that is quick and easy to use, especially if you are not looking to invest in a telescope or are not determined to start a hobby of observing the sky. Use a good [set of] 10x50s and you’ll get reasonably good views of comets just by sweeping the sky. Increasing your budget a little more opens up more opportunities to increase the aperture size and magnification, and thus as far as you can see. “

When to buy a telescope: Lavender notes that you should only invest in a telescope if you are prepared to spend on a larger aperture, as smaller ones (especially tabletop telescopes 76mm or less) are generally not superior to binoculars. In contrast, “telescopes are not always needed for comets that occupy a larger area of ​​the sky, as they are best seen in a wide-angle environment,” he says. “But they will certainly reveal more details to the smaller and weaker comets.”

One last tip from Lavender: “Avoid the plastic toy telescopes that you can find in department stores. They often feature high magnifications that are really not feasible with such poor quality optics. I recommend talking to a reputable retailer or consult our the best telescope and the best binocular guides to make the right decision “.

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

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