Soon, we will be able to see a comet called Leonard, but we can call it the Christmas comet.
Discovered last January by astronomer Greg J Leonard at the Mount Lemmon Observatory, comet C/2021 A1 will reach the minimum distance from Earth on December 12, 2021, at 13:54 GMT.
It will also be clearly visible to the naked eye just before sunrise and immediately after sunset, even in the following days, when it will be only 34 million kilometers from Earth.
It is expected to be the brightest comet of the year and will reach its closest point to the Sun on January 3 2022. An astronomical spectacle not to be missed, the Christmas circumstance that makes it associated with the comet that appeared in the same period in 2021 years ago and guided the Magi to the manger in Bethlehem for the nativity of Jesus.
In the past, comets were thought to be either a comet or a shooting star. In order to find out, scientists would have to wait for the comet’s closest pass by Earth within its orbit. This method is inaccurate and has been replaced with complex mathematical algorithms that take into account how often a comet passes close to Earth and other factors in order to calculate the amount of dust and gas it contains.
It is still difficult to predict when and how bright a comet will be since it is not possible to know with certainty how much dust and gas it emits, since these quantities can vary from day to day and are what determine the intensity of sunlight that is diffused and reflected towards the Earth. Comets are huge cosmic snowballs made of frozen gas, rock and dust that orbit the sun; as the orbit approaches the star, the comet heats up and sprays dust and gas into a giant luminous head whose trail can stretch for millions of kilometres.