Keep your eyes on the skies this weekend, as you may see a sight that is literally out of this world.
Comet C/2021 A1 – better known as Leonard – will be a sight to behold for stargazers and it is predicted to be the brightest comet of 2021.
Leonard has been on an incredible 35,000-year journey across deep space to get to us, and will not be back in our solar system for another 80,000 years (provided it doesn’t get too close to the sun).
It was discovered at the beginning of the year by researcher Greg Leonard from Arizona’s Mount Lemmon Observatory.
But where is Leonard now, and at what point this weekend will he be at his brightest?
Where is Comet Leonard now?
Leonard is travelling at an incredible 158,000 miles per hour, getting closer to Earth with each passing second.
At the time of writing, it was over 36 million kilometres away from the Earth as it passed the Serpens constellation situated close to the celestial equator.
You can keep track of Leonard’s progress in real-time via theskylive.com.
Leonard even has its own Twitter account with regular updates about its deep-space journey – who knew outer space offered such a good data plan?
How to see Comet Leonard at its brightest point
Leonard will be at its closest to point to Earth on December 12, where it will be around 34.4 million kilometres away and at its brightest in the early evening.
While it will be possible for many Earthlings to catch a sight of Leonard, sadly for UK stargazers it is not expected to be visible, due to the country’s very low position over the eastern horizon before twilight.
Keen stargazers in North America and the Southern Hemisphere will have better luck and can start looking for the comet above the horizon after sunset.
The best way to try and get a glimpse of Leonard is with a telescope or a pair of binoculars at a time when the sky is clear and in a spot with little light pollution.
After passing the Earth, Comet Leonard will swing by Venus on December 18, coming closer to the planet than any previously documented comet, within 4 million kilometres.
It will then make its closest approach to the Sun on January 3.
Should it survive the sun’s heat and radiation, it is then expected to exit the solar system and will not be swinging by again for another 80,000 years – give or take a few.
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