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New Comet May Be a December Star for Oregon Coast, Washington Coast

Published 12/03/21 at 5:22 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

New Comet May Be a December Star for Oregon Coast, Washington Coast

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(Manzanita, Oregon) – An unearthly visitor may be showing up in the skies of the Oregon coast and Washington coast in December. In fact, it's already in the vicinity of Earth – in the cosmic sense - but you just can't see it with the naked eye. (Photo above of Comet Neowise in southern Oregon, courtesy Bureau of Land Management)

Yet.

At least that's the hope for what is known as Comet Leonard, actually called Comet C/2021 A1. Scientists are saying it's quite possible it will start glowing bright enough to be seen without the aid of optics. Even then, however, it will just be a faint, fuzzy star to human eyes, not unlike Comet Neowise was back in 2020.

It certainly has OMSI astronomy expert Jim Todd excited. (See a photo of the comet)

“It still might become the brightest comet of 2021,” he said.

Comet Leonard only recently acquired a glowing tail, after being discovered in January of this year by astronomer Greg Leonard. It's slowly making its way closer to the sun, which causes the ball of ice and gas to grow brighter when its material is heated up by that close encounter with our star. As it reaches perihelion (the closest to our sun), comets like this typically hit their brightest illumination. It makes perihelion on January 3, 2022, which numerous scientists believe will make it a bit of a Christmas spectacle, according to NASA.

“Leonard was discovered as a faint smudge in January 2021 when it was out past Mars - but its orbit will take the giant shedding ice-ball into the inner Solar System, passing near both Earth and Venus in December before it swoops around the Sun in early January 2022,” NASA said. “Although comets are notoriously hard to predict, some estimations have Comet Leonard brightening to become visible to the unaided eye in December.

“Comet Leonard was captured just over a week ago already sporting a green-tinged coma and an extended dust tail.”


Courtesy EarthSky.org

NASA said Comet C/2021 A1 is traveling so quickly it will change position daily throughout this month. It's already shifting from being seen in the morning skies to evening skies now. On December 5, for example, it will be very close to the star called Arcturus. Then it will be a ways away the next evening.

On December 12 it makes its closest pass to Earth, which is still some 21 million miles away. When it reaches perihelion it will begin to swing around the sun at 54 million miles from it.

Todd said you'll need a dark sky to view it, which the Oregon coast and Washington coast will have plenty of during the month – weather permitting. However, given the fantastic images caught by photographers along the Oregon and Washington coastlines with Comet Neowise last year, it will be a good portent – photographically. If Comet C/2021 A1 winds up even as faint as Neowise was to the naked eye, it will create some artistic wonders along these shorelines.

Scientists are using what's known as orbital calculations to figure the comet's path through our solar system, and the bad news is it takes thousands of years for it to swing back again.

In the meantime, scientists say right now is a great time to catch the comet with binoculars or telescopes. If you've got a fancy camera system that connects to a telescope, the Oregon coast and Washington coast will be among the prime spots to shoot even now, considering the lack of light interference.

Todd promised more updates for Oregon and Washington soon.

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MORE PHOTOS BELOW





Movement of the stars and moon at Manzanita

Star movement at Oceanside


Comet Neowise - Oregon Coast Beach Connection

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