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12/06/2021 – Ephemeris – A new comet is reaching naked-eye or binocular visibility

December 6, 2021 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Monday, December 6th. Today the Sun will be up for 8 hours and 56 minutes, setting at 5:02, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:06. The Moon, 2 days past new, will set at 7:27 this evening.

Comet 2021 A1, is also known as Comet Leonard, for its discoverer Gregory J. Leonard of the Mount Lemmon Survey, near Tuscon, Arizona. When it was found, on January 3rd this year, it was farther from the Sun than Jupiter. January 3rd of next year, less than a month from now, it will pass its closest to the Sun at a distance of around 57 million miles from the Sun. This is after falling in toward the Sun for the last 40,000 years. It will pass close to Venus, and its orbit will be tweaked to escape the solar system to eventually head out among the stars. Tomorrow morning it will be 7 ½ degrees or 3 fingers below left of Arcturus, the brightest star in the east before 6:30. It’s 5th magnitude, but still requires binoculars for most folks to be able to spot.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EST, UT – 5 hours). They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Comet Leonard finder 12/07/21 6:30 am

Comet Leonard (C/2021 A1) finder chart for 6:30 am, December 7, 2021. The comet’s tail may not be visible visually. The comet’s head, what astronomers call a coma, may appear as a large fuzzy spot. At that time it will be 29 million miles away, and will come within 22 million miles at its closest to us on the 12th. Created using Stellarium.

Comet Leonard (C/2021 A1) in the morning

Comet Leonard’s positions at 6:30 am on the dates indicated. The labels are Month-Day Total Magnitude. The star’s position relative to the horizon and the position of Mars are for November 27th. The star field will be shifting to the upper right each morning at 6:30 from the November 27th date at 6:30. Comets always appear dimmer than their magnitude suggests because they are extended objects, not points like stars. Also, comet magnitudes can be unpredictable. The comet tails shown show the direction of the tail, if visible, only. Created using Cartes du Ciel (Sky Charts). I’ve reversed the colors from previous printings of this image. Reprinted from my article in the Stellar Sentinel, the newsletter for the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society.