On Thursday, the brightest comet of the year, Comet Leonard, also known as Comet C/2021 A1, passed by Venus on its way out of the Solar System, never to return.
Comet Leonard made its closest approach to Earth on December 12, at which point it was still more than 21 million miles away from Earth, about 88 times the distance from Earth to the moon. The comet currently can be spotted low in the evening sky, just after sunset. According to Arizona University’s A News, the comet can be seen low in the southwestern sky just around sunset. Leonard will make its closest pass at the sun on January 3, will then disappear for 80,000 years.
The comet was named after its discoverer, Gregory Leonard, a senior research specialist at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory who found the comet during a routine observation run last January 3.
Leonard last passed through this section of the solar system 80,000 years ago and then again 40,000 years ago.
“This is the last time we are going to see the comet,” Leonard said. “It’s speeding along at escape velocity, 44 miles per second. After its slingshot around the sun, it will be ejected from our solar system, and it may stumble into another star system millions of years from now.”
Even if anyone is around to notice the comet’s next pass in 80,000 years, it may not happen. By late November, observers noticed not getting brighter as comets should during their approach to the sun.
The appearance of the new light in the night sky could have much bigger implications for the earth-bound. Such an appearance was described in the Biblical prophecy of Balaam which hails the appearance of a new star as the precursor to Messiah.
I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh; there shall step forth a star out of Yakov, and a scepter shall rise out of Yisrael, and shall smite through the corners of Moab, and break down all the sons of Seth. Numbers 24:17
“It’s not great news. The comet should be brighter and brighter,” Quanzhi Ye, an astronomer at the University of Maryland who specializes in comets, told Space.com. “If it’s not getting brighter then something’s wrong, but we don’t know exactly what at this stage.”
Some experts suggest the comet may be falling apart.
“Comets do all sorts of weird things,” Ye said. “Sometimes they disintegrate before reaching perihelion, sometimes after, and there are even hypotheses saying that comets can disintegrate when they’re farther out from the sun. So we won’t know until we see it happen.”