Comet Leonard will make its closest approach to Earth tonight, at a distance of about 35 million kilometres from our planet.
Currently, astronomers have observed over 3700 comets in our Solar System and Leonard is a typical comet going around the Sun at a speed of about 47 kilometres per second.
“This is a bright-ish comet that we see in the skies on average once per year. As it gets a little closer, it could become visible to the naked eye, making for some attractive pictures, but, for us concerned with objects that could pose a threat to Earth, this comet is thankfully rather unspectacular,” explains Marco Micheli, Astronomer in European Space Agency’s (ESA) Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre in a release.
How to see the comet?
Get out of the city light, lie down and look up at the sky. Around 7:22 pm you can spot a ‘shooting star’ ripping at high speed. If lucky, you can also see a few other slow-moving comets with your naked eye.
On December 7, ESA’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre released an image of the comet captured using the Calar Alto Schmidt telescope in Spain.
By superimposing a ‘stack’ of 90 images each five seconds ‘long’, the comet was captured as colourful streaks going from green to red to blue.
“Centred around the comet’s bright nucleus, these colours come together to create a brilliant white glow of the nucleus, while the green-bluish hue around it is true-to-life, the typical colour emitted by comets due to their chemical composition,” ESA said.
Comets are icy leftovers from the early phases of the formation of the outer planets. They orbit the Sun and when they move towards the inner Solar System, emit particles and gas. These are heated by solar radiation and produce the characteristic tail of comets. Some comets can have extreme orbits and can travel a distance of over 50,000 times the distance of Earth from the Sun.
When Earth passes through the old trail of ancient comets, we get to see meteor showers.