Comet to pass by planet for first time in over 70,000 years

Comet Leonard will be closest to the Earth on Dec. 12

Photo of Chris Carr
FILE—A comet streaks through the sky.

FILE—A comet streaks through the sky.

Alex Kormann/AP

Next week will be your only chance to see a comet that hasn't passed Earth for over 70,000 years.

Comet Leonard will be the brightest comet of 2021 and will be passing the Earth later this week, reaching its closest distance on Dec. 12.

"Comet Leonard is predicted to peak at a brightness that will probably require binoculars to spot it," NASA stated in its skywatching tips for the month of December. Comets are very difficult to predict in terms of brightness, so there is a chance it will be visible to the unaided eye when it nears the planet.

The newly discovered comet can be found in the east early in the morning before sunrise, located between Arcturus and the handle of the Big Dipper. As it nears the planet, it can be found closer and closer to the horizon until around Dec. 14 when it transitions to an evening sight and gradually fades from view as it reaches its perihelion, its closest point to the sun.

Once the comet reaches its perihelion, it will then leave the solar system. This is the only opportunity for humans on Earth to see the comet before its brightness fades from view.

The comet was discovered earlier this year on Jan. 3 by astronomer Greg Leonard, according to

NASA also has a video with tips for watching the night sky this month: