Newfound comet named Leonard may be the one to watch in 2021

Officially named C/2021 A1, Leonard is one of the most promising space snowballs of this young year.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
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Eric Mack
2 min read

Comet Neowise as seen from the Parker Solar Probe. Will Leonard be a worthy follow-up act?

NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Lab/Parker Solar Probe/Guillermo Stenborg

Leonard may sound like the name of one of your grandfather's buddies, but it may also go down as the moniker of the most brilliant and dramatic comet of the year.

Comet Leonard was discovered by its namesake Greg Leonard, a senior research specialist at the University of Arizona, via the Mount Lemmon Observatory on Jan. 3.

Right now it looks to be perhaps the only naked-eye comet we'll get in 2021, according to Sky and Telescope, but it likely won't reach that brightness until December and that's only if we're lucky enough and it doesn't break apart and fizzle before then.

Of course, the odds are decent we'll spot some more impressive comets as 2021 goes on. Such was the case last year when Comet Neowise, one of the most spectacular in decades, popped up in late March and really began to dazzle us with its naked eye visibility in July.

Right now it takes a pretty serious telescope and some semi-professional chops to spot Leonard in the sky. Current predictions say that by December it could become a magnitude-four star, which is about as bright as some of the brighter stars in the constellation Ursa Minor, also known as the Little Dipper. In other words, possible to see with the naked eye, but even better with binoculars or a backyard telescope.

Leonard is currently cruising out between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter but headed our way. We'll have most of the year to watch it grow brighter and hope for a big show in December. Check back for updates.

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