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A Change of Year Comet

Travel away from city lights in early January to view Comet Leonard

Andrew Wood

Our change of year sky is being graced by Comet C/2021 A1 Leonard. About 20 degrees above the western horizon once full dark has set in, the comet can just be glimpsed with the naked eye from locations away from artificial lighting. Much better views are seen through binoculars or a telescope, where the comet structure with tail is clearly visible. That we are currently approaching New Moon is also a bonus; the light of the Moon won’t affect the view of the comet for the first of week of January. So if you can get to a dark location with a clear western horizon and if the current weather conditions hold it’s worth taking the opportunity as easily seen comets are not a common occurrence.

The inclement weather where I live in Wollongong cleared on December 28. That night I managed to see the comet through binoculars from my backyard low over the neighbouring houses. The next night I travelled a short distance to a park with a better horizon and obtained a better view, once again through binoculars. On the night of December 30 fellow Wollongong resident and Sydney City Skywatcher member Jonni Harrison and I travelled to Maddens Plains, on the old Princes Highway between Wollongong and Sutherland, and had great views of the comet through binoculars and a 120mm refracting telescope. That a family with two young girls also hoping to see the comet came upon our observing location added to the fun.

Left: Sydney City Skywatcher member Jonni Harrison searches for Comet Leonard from Maddens Plains north of Wollongong.

Using a Panasonic Lumix FZ300 camera and a tripod, I also managed to obtain images of Comet Leonard. The following images from the camera have been adjusted for exposure, contrast and noise reduction using Adobe Lightroom©.

Image 1: This wide angle view from Maddens Plains has the position of the Comet Leonard circled. It could be seen naked eye though not recognisable as a comet. To the right of the image is Jupiter; and at the 7 o’clock position from Jupiter close to the horizon is Saturn. The shape to the left of Saturn is part of the camera tripod. [Dec 30 9:25PM. Focal ratio f2.8. Focal Length 25mm. Exposure 15 sec. ISO 800].