In the past, small celestial bodies orbiting the Sun in an elongated orbit and sometimes forming a tail of gas and dust were considered a bad omen. The ancient Greeks, for example, depicted comets in the form of severed heads with flying hair, and in translation from the Greek the word “comet” means “hairy star”. But do not be surprised at the similar attitude of our ancestors to these heavenly wanderers – most of the time people saw the moon, stars and planets in the night sky, but moving bright objects frightened observers. Since the history of our species is associated with such tragic events as wars and epidemics, each appearance of a comet was accompanied by one of the inevitable misfortunes. It was believed that the brighter the comet, the more severe trials it promises to humanity. But times have changed and today we enjoy the comets flying by without fear and excitement. Interestingly, in January 2021, astronomers discovered a new incredibly bright comet called C / 2021 A1 (Leonard), which can be observed with the naked eye in December.
Inhabitants of the solar system
The observable universe hides many secrets. Many of them will probably remain unsolved forever, but this is unlikely to weaken the interest in space among scientists and ordinary people. Over the past 54 years, since the launch of the Soviet satellite, we have been able to map all the planets of the solar system, as well as their many satellites. But planets and moons are not the only inhabitants of our galaxy.
Between Jupiter and Mars, as I hope the dear reader knows, there is asteroid belt – a place of accumulation of many objects of all kinds of shapes and sizes, the so-called minor planets. Asteroids, like meteorites, sometimes fall to Earth, delighting scientists from various fields of science. But there are even more amazing objects on the space scene that we observe from Earth.
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Comet Leonardo – Heavenly Wanderer
Comets, as modern science knows, are composed primarily of frozen gases that heat up as they approach the Sun and glow from sunlight. As the gases heat up, the solar wind – subatomic particles emitted by our star – blows expanding material into a beautiful comet tail (yes, these tails reminded ancient observers of severed heads with lush hair).
Today, professional astronomers can observe between half a dozen and a dozen comets on any given night. But comets bright enough to excite those of us who don’t have large telescopes are rather unusual and appear on average one or two years every 10-15 years… It can even be said that the appearance of a large and bright comet in the night sky is a relatively rare event that occurs no more than 6-7 times a century. And although comets have been observed for many centuries, the nature of these space travelers hides many more mysteries.
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Comet C / 2021 A1 (Leonard) was discovered by astronomer Gregory Leonard on January 3, 2021 at the Mount Lemmon Observatory, located northeast of Tucson, Arizona, USA. When Leonard first saw the comet, it was an extremely faint, small object located about 5 astronomical units from the Sun (an astronomical unit is equal to the average distance of the Earth from the Sun – 149.565 million km).
Currently, C / 2021 A1 (Leonard) lies between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars. The researchers note that the comet will reach perihelion – the closest point on its orbit to the Sun – around January 3, 2022. This means we will have a full year to see this celestial traveler grow brighter and brighter.
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According to astronomers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the first approach of comet Leonardo to Earth will take place December 12, 2021 at about 14:13 Moscow time… The comet’s orbit also suggests that it will pass relatively close to Venus on December 18, 2021. In general, according to current estimates, Leonardo can be observed for several days before approaching Earth in early December 2021. Contemplation of this bright beauty with the naked eye with binoculars is also possible.
Постарайтесь не пропустить это астрономическое событие, потому что кометы, достаточно яркие, чтобы их можно было увидеть невооруженным глазом, довольно необычны и появляются на ночном небе Земли не так уж часто. В средних широтах Северного полушария комета будет доступна для наблюдений начиная с сентября 2021 года.
Interestingly, comet Leonardo has a hyperbolic orbit. This means that as soon as it passes by the Sun, then will be thrown out of the solar system and we will never see it againso the opportunity is truly unique. The comet’s orbit also demonstrates that C / 2021 A1 is not a “new” comet that came directly from the Oort cloud, the icy shell around the solar system where comets appear to appear before circling the sun. Comet Leonard is most likely in a closed orbit and has probably visited the vicinity of the Sun at least once in the past, about 70,000 years ago.