The whims of the Universe give away this December a typical picture of nativity scenes. Comet Leonard, so named because it was discovered by astronomer Greg Leonard last January from the Mount Lemmon telescope in Arizona (USA), will be at its closest distance from Earth this Sunday and will be visible until the 16th With the naked eye, in optimal sky conditions (dark place and free from light pollution), with binoculars or telescopes. The comet is a common celestial phenomenon that does not pose a threat to the planet, since it will pass 35 million kilometers, a quarter of the distance between the Earth and the Sun.
The cosmic spectacle is completed with the Geminids, a meteor shower that will reach its maximum density between December 13 and 14 and that will be produced by the confluence of the Earth’s trajectory with that of the tail of the asteroid Phaethon.
The most recent image of Comet Leonard was taken by the Calar Alto (Almería) telescope on December 7, on its approach to Earth, as reported by the Agency’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Center. European Space Agency (ESA), which is part of the Planetary Defense Office.
Comet Leonard travels at about 47 kilometers per second and this December 12 will be only, in astronomical terms, 35 million kilometers away. Current calculations reflect that this is the last chance to see it, as it will be expelled from the solar system.
Despite the symbolic nature of the comet’s close passage around Christmas time, comets are a common phenomenon: there is evidence of the presence of 3,775 in the solar system. Its origins lie in the frozen remains of the early phases of the formation of the outer planets. In their trajectories, they emit particles and gases that are heated by solar radiation and generate the characteristic tail. Leonard’s particular provenance is the Oort cloud, a deposit of several hundred billion comets located on the edge of the celestial complex that orbits the Sun.
The most closely watched comets are those near the Earth (NNE), a qualification received by those that complete their orbit around the Sun in an interval of less than 200 years and with a minimum distance from the central star of 1.3 astronomical units, something more than the separation between the Sun and the Earth.
Leonard does not pose any risk. In this regard, Marco Micheli, an astronomer at ESA’s Center for the Coordination of Near-Earth Objects, explains: “This is a bright comet that we see in the skies, on average, once a year. As it gets a little closer, it could become visible to the naked eye, which creates some attractive images, but for us, concerned about objects that could pose a threat to Earth, this comet is thankfully quite unspectacular. “
When can it be observed
Although its closest approach will be this Sunday, at its closest point it will not be visible, since it will be hidden by sunlight. To locate the path of Comet Leonard, the most practical is to focus between the constellation Ursa Major and Arthur (the third brightest star in the night sky in the constellation of the Boyero).
According to the Paris-PSL Observatory, it will be during sunrise on December 13 when it can be observed in the best conditions. Between that day and next Thursday, it will be more visible the higher its trajectory in relation to the star.
As of December 16 and until the end of the month, it will be visible from the southern hemisphere, although its observation will be hampered by the approach of the comet to the Sun and will be almost imperceptible after sunrise.
In the early morning of December 18 it will pass very close to Venus.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.