Where Is Comet Leonard Now and Is It Still Visible?

Comet Leonard, which has been a visual treat for astronomers for several weeks, is on its way out of the solar system—but it might still be possible to catch a glimpse of it depending on one's location.

The comet, formally known as Comet C/2021 A1, made headlines late last year as it made its closest approach to Earth. Adding to its appeal is the fact that spotting the comet is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Comets can be spectacular to watch due to the long elegant tails of ice and dust that they leave behind them as they pass through the solar system, particularly as they get closer to the sun.

Comet Leonard was visible in northern hemisphere skies in early- to mid-December as it made a close pass by the Earth, but it transitioned to southern hemisphere skies as it neared the sun, according to the comet's discoverer, Gregory Leonard, an astronomer at the University of Arizona.

It's not certain, but some people in the northern hemisphere may still be able to catch a glimpse of the comet, he told Newsweek.

"People living in low northern latitudes below about 30 degrees north can still try to view the comet into the second week of January," he said. "Currently it is positioned only a few degrees above the southwest sky an hour after sunset where it's also competing with a waxing moon.

"Therefore, binoculars or small telescopes are required as the comet is now dimming as it recedes from both the sun and Earth."

Leonard added that he spotted the comet from Tucson, Arizona, as recently as January 4, and that he hopes to spot it again this weekend, "perhaps for a final glimpse."

He said the comet is now on a trajectory that will fling it out of the solar system after having made its closest approach to the sun on January 3.

Show of Dust and Gas

Last month, the comet released dust and gas whipped up and excited by solar winds—which are collections of charged particles from the sun. The result was a long, ionized tail behind the comet that Leonard described as "spectacular filaments and streamers."

It occurred just before Christmas and was mostly visible to people in the southern hemisphere, the astronomer added. He expects that people living in this region may be able to observe the comet until late January, although it will become increasingly dim over time.

The comet has spent the last 35,000 years heading toward our part of the solar system and covered a distance of more than 300 billion miles, according to the St Louis Science Center.

Comet Leonard
A file photo shows Comet Leonard on December 4, 2021. The comet is expected to leave the solar system following its pass by Earth last month. Franco Tognarini/Getty