Founding astronomer tells 10 News when, where and how to see December’s comet Leonard

We spoke with the comet’s namesake to get tips on how to view it this month

ROANOKE, Va.We recently spoke with Julie McCoy and Rob Leonard of Roanoke, whose brother Greg discovered the next naked-eye comet. Greg Leonard scans the sky for near-Earth asteroids at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona. Every once in a while, he spots something different.

He tells us, “I’ve got a total of 13 comet discoveries to my credit.”

The comet Leonard, named after him, is different.

“This comet is getting closer to the sun and closer to the earth, so that gives us an opportunity to see it.”

It’s not just different from a scientific and a professional standpoint but from a personal standpoint too.

“It’s very gratifying and humbling as well. I never dreamed as a young boy out there in the backyard that I’d ever get a chance to discover something that’s really special and really unique as this comet.”

A lifetime in the making, Leonard calls this the cosmic jackpot.

So, when and how can we see this for ourselves? He tells us to grab a pair of binoculars, and set an alarm. At first, this will be an, “Early morning object visible probably about 5 or 6 a.m. local time looking toward the east.”

When and where to view the comet Leonard

December 12, his discovery turns to more of an evening object, but he tells us, “It’s going to be more difficult to observe, because it’s going to be very low in the western sky and southwestern sky at twilight and just after sunset. However, there’s an opportunity for this comet to brighten considerably.”

We asked Leonard how this compares to last year’s NEOWISE comet (pictured below).

Rickey Parker of Danville captures the NEOWISE comet in the summer of 2020 (Copyright 2021 by WSLS 10 - All rights reserved.)

He referenced comet hunter/amateur astronomer, David Levy, by saying, “Comets are like cats. They both have tails and do precisely what they want.”

In other words, it’s very difficult to predict the brightness of a comet.

Both he and his siblings in the Roanoke Valley are mapping out dark, rural spots to view their astronomical namesake - forever etched in space and time.

For the rest of us, Leonard suggests, “Enjoy the marvel of what we know about them. Enjoy the mystery about the things that we still don’t know about them and appreciate it for what it is. It’s a beautiful cosmic object.”

Virginia photographer, Brennan Gilmore, has already snapped some beautiful shots of the comet Leonard. He sent 10 News an animation of the comet as he tracked it one morning a few days ago.

Watch the animation below.

If you’re able to capture the comet on camera, send us a picture on Pin It!

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.