Вадим Дудченко
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When C/2021 A1 (Leonard), a recently-discovered long-period comet about 1 km wide, makes its closest pass of the Sun on January 3, 2022, it will be a journey 40,000 years in the making. Ahead of its close approach, NASA’s Solar Terrestial Relations Observatory-A (STEREO-A) and the ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter captured these views of the comet.

This image, captured by the SoloHI instrument onboard the ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter, shows the comet Leonard. Image credit: ESA / NASA / NRL / SoloHI.

The comet Leonard was discovered on January 3, 2021 by astronomer Gregory Leonard, who spotted it in images taken from the Mount Lemmon Observatory in Arizona.

The comet’s closest approach on January 3, 2022 will take it within 90 million km (56 million miles) of the Sun, slightly more than half Earth’s distance to the Sun.

If the comet doesn’t disintegrate, its trajectory will fling it into interstellar space, never to return.

The SoloHI instrument onboard the ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter captured several images of the comet Leonard on December 17-19, 2021.

They show the comet streaking diagonally across the field of view with the Milky Way as a stunning backdrop.

Venus and Mercury are also visible in the top right, Venus appearing brighter and moving from left to right.

“The comet Leonard is currently on its inbound journey around the Sun with its tail streaking out behind,” ESA astronomers said.

“When SoloHI recorded these images, the comet was approximately between the Sun and the spacecraft, with its gas and dust tails pointing towards the spacecraft.”

“Toward the end of the image sequence, our view of both of the tails improves as the viewing angle at which we see the comet increases, and SoloHI gets a side-on view of the comet.”

“A faint coronal mass ejection front is also visible moving from the right hand side of the frame in the final second of the movie.”

“SoloHI will continue observing the comet until it leaves its field of view on December 22, 2021, and will be complemented by other instrument observations.”

This image of the comet Leonard was captured by the HI-2 telescope aboard NASA’s STEREO-A spacecraft. Image credit: NASA / NRL / Karl Battams.

The HI-2 telescope onboard NASA’s STEREO-A spacecraft has watched the comet Leonard since early November 2021.

“The animated ‘difference image’ was created by subtracting the current frame from the previous frame to highlight differences between them,” NASA astronomers said.

“Difference images are useful for seeing subtle changes in Leonard’s ion tail, which becomes longer and brighter toward the end of the clip.”


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