Comet Leonard Last Came in Earth's View 80,000 Years Ago—Watch It Appear for the Last Time This Month
Holiday lights won't be the only bright sights to see this season. According to CNN, Comet Leonard, which last passed by our planet 80,000 years ago, has been illuminating the sky this month, and stargazers can catch the out-of-this-world event for a few more days before it goes away. The comet was spotted by NASA and the European Space Agency, as it made its way across the sky from Friday to Sunday. Another exciting fact? The Milky Way was spotted in the background along with Venus and Mercury.
The closest the comet has come to Earth was on December 12, as it approached within 21 million miles (34 million kilometers to be exact). If you would like to witness this celestial event for yourself, you're in luck. Comet Leonard will appear in the Northern and Southern hemispheres until the end of December. Researchers noted that the object came near the sun on January 3, coming within 56 million miles (90 million kilometers). The comet will disappear forever—as long is it doesn't disintegrate, that is—as it travels even further into space after it passes by Earth.
This celestial object was first uncovered in January by Greg Leonard, a senior research specialist at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. "The fact that the tail showed up in those images was remarkable, considering that the comet was about 465 million miles out (from Earth) at that point, about the same distance as Jupiter (from Earth)," he said in December. It moves 158,084 miles per hour, but it will appear slowly from our view here on Earth. It first appeared on December 13, showing up "very low above the horizon just after sunset," said Leonard. "It will skim across the west-southwestern horizon between now up until around Christmastime. The fact that it's so close to the horizon makes this comet a bit challenging to observe."
"As much as we have great science on comets, they're still highly unpredictable with respect to their size, shape, chemical makeup and behavior," Leonard, said. "A wise and famous comet discoverer once said: 'Comets are like cats—both have tails, and both do precisely what they want.'" Unfortunately, this sight will be a once-in-a-lifetime event. "This is the last time we are going to see the comet," Leonard said. "It's speeding along at escape velocity, 44 miles per second. After its slingshot around the sun, it will be ejected from our solar system, and it may stumble into another star system millions of years from now."