At last! Some excitement in the night sky after a long year of just the same old, same old. There is a lovely planetary alignment right now, with the moon, Venus, Saturn and Jupiter in constant play as they sweep across the ecliptic. With more cloud cover than usual, many nights of observing have been out of the question, but last night was particularly clear and allowed good views of Andromeda just below the square of Pegasus – always my favourite galaxy to observe as the Milky Way is set to mingle among its stars.
There are a number of comets out there, requiring some powerful scopes to view, but there is a returning comet from 70 000 years ago that will become visible during December. Comet Leonard was first spotted in January 2021 just past Mars and is considered to be an inbound long period comet. A comet is an icy, small solar system body that warms as it nears the sun, emitting gas that produces the visible coma, or what we call the tail. Comet Leonard has arrived in the night sky of the southern hemisphere and will only be visible for around 8 nights. Binoculars of at least 80mm will give a good view, relatively speaking. A small scope is ideal, but the bigger, the better with all things astronomical. Be prepared for some disappointment if you do spot this small smudge – it won’t be the dramatic green comet with a long tail stretching behind it – these images are taken by telescopes in space or at the least from a terrestrial observatory and our own experience of these things is less than dramatic!
With clear skies for the first time in many weeks, try your luck at comet spotting! If all else fails, there are a billion alternatives that can be wondered at with the naked eye, and even better with binoculars. We are, after all, living under the best views of our galaxy here in the southern hemisphere.