Since the beginning of this year, observers on Earth have been tracking Comet Leonard, a kilometer-wide filthy snowball made of ice, rocks and dust.
Now, as it approaches a close collision with the Sun on January 3, 2022, several spacecraft – with the distinct advantage of having front row space for action – are watching the comet change and evolve as it evolves. it heats up.
Specifically, two satellites dedicated to observing the Sun have recently captured the brightness of Leonard’s comet as it sweeps past Earth for the first time in 80,000 years.
The Solar Orbiter Heliospheric Imager (SoloHI) captured an incredible sequence of animated images late last week (Dec 17-19) showing Comet Leonard moving diagonally across the field of view.
The Milky Way can be seen, as well as Venus and Mercury visible in the upper right corner. Venus is brighter and moves from left to right.
When SoloHI captured these images, the comet was roughly between the Sun and the spacecraft, with the comet’s gas and dust tails pointing toward the spacecraft.
Towards the end of the sequence, the view of both tails improves as the angle of view from which we see the comet increases, and SoloHI gets a side view of the comet.
So yeah, comet Leonard has definitely taken it to the next level in the last couple of days. Take a look at this tail action! ?
[?️: B.Gallagher, NRL] pic.twitter.com/QzNWL2UjNf
– Karl Battams (@SungrazerComets) December 16, 2021
Another animated image was captured by NASA’s STEREO-A (Solar-Earth Observatory) spacecraft with the SECCHI / HI-2 telescope.
This spacecraft has been observing the comet since early November.
NASA explained that this animated “difference image” was created by subtracting the current frame from the previous frame to highlight the differences between the two.
Difference images are useful for seeing subtle changes in Leonard’s ion tail (a trail of ionized gases leaking from a comet’s body or nucleus), which gets longer and brighter towards the end of the clip.
Comet Leonard came closest to Earth on December 12, covering a distance of 21 million miles (34 million kilometers).
The comet is visible in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres until the end of December.
It was discovered by astronomer Gregory Leonard at the Mount Lemmon Observatory near Tucson, Arizona.
The official name of the long-period comet is C / 2021 A1 Leonard. At the time of its discovery, it was at a distance of about 5 astronomical units (AU) (approximately at the distance of Jupiter from the Sun).
Even if Leonard’s comet survives its journey around the sun, we will never see it again. It will be ejected from the solar system after passing perihelion.
At the farthest distance, the comet reached aphelion at a distance of 3500 AU. from him in the Oort Cloud about 35,000 years ago. On January 3, 2022, it will be only 0.62 AU. from the Sun, inside the orbit of Venus.
This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.