This month, two major astronomical events will be visible in Hong Kong: the recently discovered Comet Leonard, which will make its only appearance in Earth’s view during our lifetimes, and the annual Geminid meteor shower.
Comet Leonard C/2021 A1 was discovered in January 2021 and is said to be this year’s brightest comet. It has been inner solar system-bound for 35,000 years. The comet takes tens of thousands of years to complete an orbit around our sun, meaning this will be the last time any human sees it for a long time. According to NASA, it is currently visible in the east just before sunrise and will be at its closest point to earth (34 million kilometres) on December 12.
In Hong Kong, the green comet is already visible in the morning as it passes between Arcturus and the handle of the Big Dipper. It will beome most visible with binoculars in the evening of December 15. To the naked eye, it will look like a blurry star.
Secondly, the yearly Geminid meteor shower, first observed in 1862, is expected to peak on December 14. It is one of the few meteor showers caused by an asteroid instead of a comet. During this year’s Geminid shower, it is predicted that viewers will be able to see up to 150 meteors per hour with the naked eye.
Meteor showers are best observed at dawn and when the moon is not bright. This year, the moon will be up to 80% full during the event’s peak, but is predicted to set at around 4am on December 15 in Hong Kong. This should leave a couple of hours for prime viewing before dawn.
Header image credits: University of Hertfordshire Observatory, CC BY-SA 2.0)