This is Leonard’s ‘perfect shot’, the hunt for the Christmas comet. After an unexpected increase in brightness on December 20, space and terrestrial telescopes are competing to record the celestial body towards the sun, which ‘touches’ on January 3 from a distance of about 90 million kilometers.
Images taken by NASA’s Solar Orbiter study and by the European Space Agency (ESA) are very impressive: the animated sequence shows the comet Leonard (with its two gas and dust tails) crossing the field of view. Venus and Mercury are the brightest moving planets in the Milky Way in the background and in the upper right corner.
Equally spectacular photos are being posted on social networks by amateurs in the Southern Hemisphere, with the possibility of seeing the comet with the naked eye these nights. “However, from our northern hemisphere, vision is no longer so active,” explains astronomer Gianluca Masi, science director of the Virtual Telescope Project. “The comet is technically observed in the southwest for some time after sunset, but it sets very low on the horizon and sets quickly. You can try the telescope as long as the horizon is unobstructed.” Amateurs release their footage.
The comet at C / 2021A1 (Leonard), already recognized as the brightest of 2021, was photographed by astronomer Gregory J. Schmidt at Mount Lemon Laboratory in Arizona. Leonard was discovered on January 3rd. This celestial body, about one kilometer in diameter, is a collection of dust, rocks, and ice moving towards the sun: it will reach a minimum distance (perihelion) on January 3, and if it escapes this close junction, it will leave the solar system and continue its flow into interstellar space.
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