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Reaching for the stars! One local family has its name on next naked eye comet

The Leonard family has its name etched in space history, and we can witness it this month.

Rob Leonard and Julie McCoy are scientists, just like their brother Greg, who recently discovered Comet Leonard C2021/A1.

ROANOKE, Va. – An Arizona astronomer recently discovered a comet that we could see with the naked eye this month, and two of his siblings call the Roanoke Valley home.

“Science is kind of in our hearts.”

Rob Leonard and Julie McCoy are scientists, just like their brother Greg, who recently discovered Comet Leonard C2021/A1.

“This is not his first comet that he’s discovered,” McCoy said.

Rob said his brother’s job at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona is to, “Stare up at the skies all night long for 20 nights a month, and you need to let us know if there’s anything that could potentially collide with planet Earth.”

While scanning the sky, he caught onto something different.

“It started out as just kind-of a faint smudge and I just remember him basically saying to us, ‘Hey, I think I found something that no one else has tracked yet, and I think it’s a comet again,’” said McCoy.

Indeed it was. As McCoy told us, this comet is moving at “A cool 45 miles per second.”

This is just another notch in Greg Leonard’s belt, but an opportunity like this — to discover a comet that can be seen with the naked eye — is something that’s been in the making since childhood.

“He’ll tell you I was dragged out to these fields with his first telescope to look at this stuff, but I enjoyed every minute of it,” said McCoy.

Rob then chimes in and said, “Every single time I go outside, day, night or otherwise, I look up at the sky.”

For the family, much like the comet, they’re beaming too...with pride.

“How many people do you know that can say we have a comet named after our family?”

Thursday on 10 News, we have an exclusive interview with the comet’s namesake, Greg Leonard. He did tell us to look east early in the morning the first 10 days of December, but that there’s the potential for an even brighter opportunity later this month.


About the Author:

Meteorologist Chris Michaels is an American Meteorological Society (AMS) Certified Broadcaster, forecasting weather conditions in southwest Virginia on WSLS 10 News from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. weekdays on Virginia Today.