April 4, 2020

04.03.10- The Edgar Wilson Award: A Look at Last Year’s Winners.

In this age of astronomical automation and ever increasingly deeper sky surveys, many believe the era of the amateur comet discoveries to be over. A look at last year’s Edgar Wilson Award winners, however, tells a different tale. Established in 1998, this award has historically split a $20,000 purse among 2 to 6 individuals who have discovered a comet in an amateur capacity.

A look at these discoveries is revealing, and speaks to the diligence of award recipients and the methods and equipment utilized. As professional methods become more sophisticated, amateur methods have followed suit. Still, it’s intriguing to see how these cometary discoveries were made; here’s a quick snapshot of last years’ five recipients;

-          Robert E. Holmes Jr.: Discovered comet C/2008 N1 with a 16” SCT.

-          Stanislav Maticic: Discovered comet C/2008 Q1 with a 24” telescope.

-          Koichi Itagaki: Discovered comet C/2009 E1 with a 8.3” reflector.

-          Michel Ory: Discovered comet P/2008 Q1 with a 24” reflector.

-          Dae-am Yi: Discovered comet C/2009 (also known as Comet Yi-SWAN; faithful followers of this spot will recall we blogged about this circumpolar visitor a while back) with a DSLR coupled with a 90 mm telephoto lens.

So, what is an aspiring comet hunter to take away from this? First, all discoveries were made by CCD imaging, not the old school method of visually sweeping huge sections of the sky. Second, while owning a huge light bucket might be helpful, several of the discoveries show that it is not mandatory. In fact, with the proliferation of Digital SLRs, several households may have equipment sitting idly by surpassing that used in the Yi-SWAN discovery!   So let the cyber-gauntlet be thrown; we’d love to blog about the kid who discovered the next Hale-Bopp, diligently performing an ad-hoc nightly sky survey with his parents DSLR!


  1. Jon Richfield says:

    Could someone please assist? I have now read in a couple of places, including Wikipedia that Michel Ory discovered comet P/2008 Q2, thinking at first that it was an asteroid. So far so good. I am puzzled however by a remark I have now seen in a couple of places (out of many) along the lines of this one in Wikipedia: “The comet is as big as the earth (diameter estimated to be about 20,000 km)”. That quote was attributed to a newspaper. Australian. If it is intended to refer to the solid mass of the comet, that sounds totally incredible (give or take some 8000 km) and I would love to have someone explain it to me. If it refers to the diameter of the coma it still does not sound terribly informative. I have been searching Google and turning up mostly technical astronomical descriptions that I do not find helpful and I would be grateful for authoritative comment on what we know with reasonable confidence about this particular comet’s attributes. Thank you for attention.

  2. David Dickinson says:

    That has to be a description of the size of the gaseous coma of the head of the comet. Can’t find the direct reference to that quote concerning Comet Ory, but that’s not uncommon; the outburst of comet Holmes in 2007 was a good example.

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