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].


Image 2: Seen faintly in this image from suburban Farmborough Heights in Wollongong, the comet is between the top of the TV aeriel and the trees to the left. [Dec 28 9:45Pm. f3.5, 60mm, 30 sec ISO 1600].


Image 3: From a park in Farmborough Heights, the comet with tail can be seen among the surrounding stars. [Dec 29 9:40PM. f3.2, 225mm, 4 sec, ISO 6400].


Image 4: From Maddens Plains. Note the movement of the comet in the relation to the stars from the Image 3 on the previous night. [Dec 30 9:40PM. f2.8, 170mm, 8 sec, ISO 6400].


Image 5: A longer telephoto view of Comet Leonard. [Dec 30 9:42PM, f2.8, 485mm, 8sec ISO 6400].


Looking at images such as those found at the Astronomy Picture of the Day website for Dec 30, [https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html], it can be seen that Comet C/2021 A1 Leonard is far more complex than as described in this article. If you are fortunate enough to be at a very dark rural location with clear skies in early January, you may be treated to some excellent Views.