Skywatchers: Once-in-a-Lifetime Christmas Star and Ursid Meteor Showers 

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Comet Leonard (C/2021) is a skywatchers event all through December. It is this year’s brightest star visible in the US and in other parts of the Northern hemisphere. And it has affectionately become known as the “Christmas Star.”

The newly discovered comet was named after Gregory Leonard, a senior research specialist at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. He was the astronomer to see the comet which he discovered earlier this year. 

Viewing the Christmas Star

Leonard says the comet is skimming “across the west-southwestern horizon between now up until around Christmastime.” And he notes that it might be “a bit challenging to observe” because it will be merging with the horizon.

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“I feel there is going to be something to be seen even for the casual observer,” Leonard wrote in a University article. “Find yourself a dark sky with a good view of the horizon, bring binoculars and I think you may be rewarded.”

You will likely need binoculars or a telescope to catch a glimpse of this comet. Astronomers from NASA say it’s possible “it may be visible to the naked eye under very clear and dark observing conditions.”

In general, your chances of seeing the comet get better if you find a dark area away from bright city lights or street lights. Experts from the University of Arizona say you also have a better shot at catching a glimpse if you look “very low above the horizon just after sunset.”

Lada says that  “it will become dimmer and dimmer heading into the final days of December.”

You are missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if you don’t view Leonard this week. The comet won’t be back in our universe for another 80,000 years.

 

Ursids Meteor Shower peak this week 

NASA explains that comets are actually  “cosmic snowballs of frozen gases, rock and dust that orbit the sun.”

“When a comet’s orbit brings it close to the sun, it heats up and spews dust and gases into a giant glowing head larger than most planets,” the space agency describes the process.

 “The dust and gases form a tail that stretches away from the sun for millions of miles.”

Although the Christmas star only comes around once this week will have some awesome meteor showers. 

The Ursids are the last meteor shower of the year. And they are expected to peak this week.

The Ursid meteor shower will be visible in the US through December 26th  and is likely to reach its peak during the late-night hours of Tuesday, December 21st  into the early morning hours on Wednesday, December 22nd.

On December 18th the “cold moon” turned full and on Dec. 22 it will make skywatching difficult. With 90% illumination, it is hard to see the faintest meteors.

In 1945 and 1986, the Ursids generated a high volume of meteors. As many as 50 meteors per hour were seen. There have also been years where “bursts of 100 or more meteors per hour have been observed,” according to EarthSky.org.