Comet Leonard has been observed during its approach to the Sun through two NASA spacecraft.
At its closest pass, the comet will approach 90 million kilometers from our star, a little more than half the distance from Earth. If it does not disintegrate, its trajectory will throw it into interstellar space from where it can never return.
NASA has shared some images and a video showing the comet’s passage.
Who is behind this discovery?
Comet Leonard was discovered in January 2021 by Gregory Leonard, who detected it in images taken from the Mount Lemmon Observatory in Arizona.
The astronomer is a research specialist at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona. In an interview with the site Space, the expert explained how the discovery of the comet came about.
In the interview, Leonard highlighted the fact that the find was unexpected and almost fortuitous, since at that time they were looking for asteroids and other types of bodies.
“They are unexpected because we look for near-Earth asteroids and only occasionally stumble upon what appears to be a comet, and then we report them to the Minor Planet Center in Harvard, Massachusetts, which is the clearinghouse for all observations of asteroids and comets ”, pointed out the astronomer.
Leonard explained that one of the aspects that most caught his attention about this comet was its orbit, which allows it to be easily observed from our planet.
“What was unexpected about this comet was its orbit. Unlike most comets discovered throughout the year, this comet is in an orbit that brings it relatively close to the Sun and Earth, close enough that it can be seen from the backyard by casual observers. ”.
It is possible that this is the last appearance of Leonard, whose official name is C / 2021 A1, at least in the solar system, since scientists expect him to come close to Earth again in 80 thousand years.
The astronomer hopes that the close passage through the Earth will allow many astronomers to observe and study it, thus discovering what the comet is made of, which is currently one of its main mysteries.