It’s been awhile since the last post about the comet—but cloudy skies with lots of rain and snow have made observations difficult. Finally, we had a break in the weather on New Year’s Day and I was able to capture additional images.
The comet has dropped lower in the sky making it difficult to get good images because the comet is now located in the band of twilight glare. Only at the end of astronomical twilight is the sky dark enough but by this time the comet is very low on the horizon leaving only minutes to shoot until it sets.
Below are two images of the comet. The first is a set of images taken between 1832 and 1850 MST. The best 30 images were combined and averaged in Starry Sky Stacker then histogram stretched using rnc-color-stretch. Individual images were shot at 85mm, ƒ/4, ISO 100, and 15 seconds. The resulting image shows the tail extending nearly to the upper left corner.
The second image is a single image taken at 1901 MST at 85mm, ƒ/1.8, ISO 500 and 30 seconds. This image shows how close the comet was to the horizon. The glow at the bottom of the image is the light dome from Phoenix about 200 km to the south.
The comet is moving away from us and lower in the sky. I’m not certain I will be able to get another chance to capture any images. For those in the southern hemisphere, the comet is better placed in the night sky for viewing and photography and there have been some amazing images captured. Spaceweather.com noted that “…Intense solar heat has given the comet one of the most beautiful tails astronomers have ever seen…”
Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) remains a visually interesting object in the evening twilight. It is only visible for short time each evening between the time it gets dark enough to see it and when it gets too low on the horizon and is obscured by dust or clouds.
The comet has undergone a rapid brightening in the past few days. From Spaceweather.com:
The outburst might signal a fragmentation event in the comet’s core. This would come as no surprise. The comet is heading for its closest approach to the sun (0.61 AU) on Jan. 3rd. Increasing heat may be liberating new jets of gas and dust from the comet’s core—or worse, blowing away huge chunks of ice and rock.
There have been numerous magnificent images posted to the Spaceweather.com website:
Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) is currently visible in the southwest evening sky for a short period after sunset. Evening twilight makes it difficult to see the comet with the unaided eye. Even in binoculars it is a faint object. On the other hand, a short exposure on a camera will reveal the comet and its tail.
Finally, here is a time-lapse of the comet on 17 December 2021 from 18:16:48–18:21:08 MST. It moves quite a bit in just a few minutes.
Time lapse of the comet.
The comet will reach its highest elevation above the horizon this week and then begin to slowly drop towards the horizon again.
There is a new comet currently visible through telescopes, binoculars and long-exposure photographs in the morning skies—and there are expectations that the comet will become bright enough to be seen with the unaided eye in the coming weeks.
Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) was discovered by G. J. Leonard at the Mount Lemmon Observatory in early January 2021. The comet will make its closest approach to Earth on 12 December 2021 (~35 million km). It will make its closest approach to the Sun on 3 January 2022 and then will head out of the Solar System.
It has a current estimated magnitude of around +6 and is expected to brighten to +4 as it nears the Sun. Some forecasts call for a brightening to magnitude +2 making it visible even in the twilight hours. It is becoming likely that this will be the brightest comet of 2021.
This was my first attempt to photograph the comet. It was barely visible in binoculars (7×50) but was easily seen with even a short exposure on the camera. I set the camera to take 60 second exposures for an hour—at which time astronomical twilight would begin to brighten the eastern sky.
The photograph at the top was taken just a few minutes after the start of the session and shows two meteors (one bright and the other fairly dim) passing through the same portion of the sky as the comet. Also visible in the photograph is Messier 3 (M3 or NGC 5272), a globular cluster made up of around a half million stars.
Below is a time-lapse animation of the images collected during that hour. The comet is moving at an ultrafast speed of ~71 km/second relative to Earth and that fast motion is easily seen in the animation.
Time-lapse imagery showing the motion of the comet from 0450–0550 MST on 03 December 2021.
I hope to have more opportunities to photograph this comet in both the morning sky and later in the month in the evening sky—especially if it brightens significantly.