Comet to fly by Earth in mid-December - can we see it from Israel?

C/2021 A1 (Leonard), also known as Comet Leonard, will be closest to the Earth on December 13, but spotting it in the sky from Israel will be hard.

 A comet is seen flying by the Earth (illustrative). (photo credit: PIXABAY)
A comet is seen flying by the Earth (illustrative).
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

A widely-anticipated comet is set to fly by the Earth in mid-December and will be both the brightest comet of 2021 and likely the last one seen before the end of the year. And if you look closely enough, you just might be able to spot it.

The comet in question, C/2021 A1 (Leonard), was discovered by astronomer Greg Leonard way back in the beginning of January 2021. Currently heading in the direction of the sun, the comet will be flying by the night sky in mid-December as it heads closer.

The comet will be closest to Earth on December 13 before finally rounding the Sun on January 3, 2022.

Comets are visually impressive sights to behold. These icy objects - compared to more rocky asteroids - fly through space and are defined by their iconic "comas" and "tails," which are what make the comets look bright, fuzzy and with a distinctive trail. These are caused by outgassing, the process in which the icy comets warm and release gases as they fly close to the sun and are affected by solar radiation and solar winds. 

Throughout history, comets have been seen as awe-inspiring sights, as these bright lights shine in the sky.

 Halley's Comet (illustrative). (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Halley's Comet (illustrative). (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Despite this, however, the Comet Leonard will be difficult to spot in the sky, even at its best. This is due to several factors, most notably diminishing brightness and its distance from Earth, being tens of millions of kilometers away.

It can still be seen, but one would need binoculars.

In Israel, you might still be able to see it, but it will be difficult.

"You will need to know exactly where to look and to use binoculars," explained Weizmann Institute of Science's Dr. David Polishook. 

"It will be above the horizon for a short time just before the sunrise, and after mid-December, it will be observable for a short time after sunset."

Your best bet at viewing the comet in Israel would be to head to the South, as far south as possible. But even then, Polishook explained, the advantage is very minimal - just around 2.5 degrees.

While the comet's arrival is still exciting enough for many, others worry about the comet's condition. 

As noted by some observers, two jets have been seen coming from the coma, and the comet itself is not brightening as quickly as before, meaning it is possible that the comet could be breaking or disintegrating.

According to Polishook, this is certainly a possibility, as it has happened to other comets in the past, though this is nothing dangerous for Earth.