For someone who calls himself a “normal guy with a telescope,” photographer Andrew McCarthy captures some truly awe-inspiring images. On December 26, 2021, McCarthy went into his backyard in Florence, Arizona, and snapped sights of Comet Leonard—aka the Christmas Comet—as it tore through the sky. One of the resulting photographs is an up-close look at the comet as it displays a brilliant streak of color surrounded by a pitch-black backdrop with faintly glittering stars. As McCarthy said, this Christmas Comet put on “quite a show.”
On his popular Instagram account, the photographer detailed how he captured the spectacular sight. “Despite being quite low in the southwestern sky,” he shares, “I was able to get about 12 minutes worth of close-up shots, giving me a great look at the incredible structure and color around the nucleus.” He used a modified SCT telescope and photographed 25 separate 30-second-long exposures. Once he had all of those images, he created a composite portrait detailing Comet Leonard.
McCarthy’s choice to immortalize the celestial object was done at the right time. First spotted in January 2021, Comet Leonard became notable because it was on a “rare journey”—a path that would take it close to the Sun as well as Earth. It made its closet appearance to us on January 3, 2022, but it’s now traveling across the solar system and will eventually exit and land in interstellar space. We won’t see it again, making McCarthy’s portrait of the Christmas Comet all the more significant.