NASA’s STEREO, satellite spots 'Outbursts' from Comet Leonard

NASA’s STEREO, satellite spots ‘Outbursts’ from Comet Leonard

Comet Leonard captured by the satellite

Last week, NASA’s STEREO-A spacecraft captured this image of Comet Leonard as it proceeded to race across the inner solar system. The warming comet was recorded by STEREO-A as it emitted a gaseous shroud and brightened.

The iceball, called ‘Comet Leonard’ or C/2021 A1, was found in January 2021 by Gregory Leonard, an astronomer at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. It’s a comet with a very long period. For almost 80,000 years, we’re seeing its first and last visit to the inner solar system.

As the comet got closer to the sun and heated up, it began to have “outbursts,” in which it brightly ejected volatile components such as gases and water ice. NASA officials said in an image description that the bursts appear as rapid variations in brightness.

Astronomers have been speculating for the past couple of days. Comet Leonard could be experiencing “outbursts,” which are sudden variations in brightness caused by enormous amounts of volatile material being released. However, because the comet is close to the horizon in twilight skies, viewing from Earth is a little more difficult. Since early November, the NASA STEREO-A satellite has been tracking the comet’s every motion. On December 14, 2021, the animation shows highly processed photos taken by the SECCHI/HI-2 camera on STEREO.

How to watch Comet Leonard?

Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard), also known as Comet Leonard, is visible in binoculars and telescopes. It is likely to be relatively bright in the coming days, although we can’t say for sure as comet brightness is always unpredictable.

However, Comet Leonard’s route through space should provide excellent vistas. The Earth will pass through Leonard’s orbital plane or path on Tuesday (Dec. 7), making the comet appear exceptionally bright due to its proximity to us.

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