Strange things to observe
Something weird is occurring to the year’s most anticipated comet, according to skywatchers.
Comet Leonard was initially discovered by astronomers in January 2021, and skywatchers were excitedly anticipating December and January. The comet went by Earth and then the sun during these months. However, by late November, observers had spotted something odd. The comet should brighten as it gets closer to the sun, and it does, but only because it’s going closer to Earth, not because it’s becoming brighter inherently. Rather, it appears to be receding.
Scientists are concerned that Comet Leonard’s odd fading suggests the iceball is doomed, based on what they’ve seen from past comets. Some comets that have broken apart in the past have faded even as they flew closer to the sun, signaling that something is going on.
“There are a lot of theories as to why it’s fading,” Ye explained.
The most basic and evident is that something bad is occurring to the comet.”
He believes the most likely scenario is that Comet Leonard is already splitting up or will do so shortly. Other things, though, could be to fault. For example, the comet could simply be out of ice, causing the sun to melt it, though Ye believes this is unlikely. He responded, “It appears to be too coincidence.”
Nonetheless, it’s far too early to declare Comet Leonard dead.
The loss of a comet’s ion tail, a stream of charged particles pointing from the comet in the direction opposite the sun, is thought to be the first clue that it is doomed. Within a few hours of a comet breaking apart, that characteristic could vanish.
On Sunday, December 12th, comet Leonard will make its closest visit to Earth; its perihelion, or closest approach to the sun, will be on January 3rd. Although the sun’s effect will weaken after Jan. 3, even if the comet survives that long, it isn’t certain to be safe.
When to expect the Comet Leonard?
“It usually takes a few days before you can observe the comet visibly shift and vanish,” he explained. “Because it takes time for the comet to entirely disintegrate, we should still be in for something quite dazzling next week.”
Comet Leonard will be visible in the late mornings through December 12 as it approaches Earth. Then, for a few days, it will be obscured by the sun’s glare, before reappearing in the evening skies on Dec. 17. Visit our skywatching guide for more information on detecting Comet Leonard.
Because of the overcast weather, Ye hasn’t been able to see Comet Leonard yet but expects to do so next week. He’s curious about what comets may teach scientists about the early days of the solar system, but he also enjoys the spectacle.