Despite all the fancy optical gizmos used by professional astronomers to monitor the sky, this year's Edgar Wilson Award makes it clear that amateurs are still discovering comets.

One of two comets amateur astronomer Lovejoy found this past year is visible in this enlarged discovery image, which shows C/2007 E2 near the top of the frame.

Terry Lovejoy

The annual award, first given in 1999 by the estate of American businessman Edgar Wilson, gives about $20,000 to amateur astronomers who find a new comet using equipment not owned by a professional observatory. In previous years the prize has usually gone to between two and six amateur individuals or groups.

This year the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), which oversees the award, is splitting the prize among three people: John Broughton (Australia), David H. Levy (US) and Terry Lovejoy (Australia).

Broughton has discovered more than 400 asteroids (including one near-Earth object) and one other comet. He found comet 2006 OF2 last September 29th with a 10-inch (0.25-meter) reflector. It is inbound to perihelion in 2008.

This award marks the 22nd comet discovery for Sky & Telescope contributing editor Levy, who lives outside Tucson, Arizona. He spotted P/2006 T1 last October 2nd with his 16-inch reflector. This periodic comet has now left the inner solar system, but it will return to pass near Earth in 2012.

Lovejoy is the first person ever to discover a comet using a digital camera. On March 15th he picked up the 10th-magnitude C/2007 E2 and just two months later he captured C/2007 K5, both sightings as part of an ongoing sky survey with his two Canon 300D and 350D cameras.


Image of Amar A. Sharma

Amar A. Sharma

August 1, 2007 at 1:12 pm

Wow! This is great news. That goes to prove beyond doubt that amateurs can *still* beat the odds and discover comets (be it photographic or visual) in the days of the giant computerized surverys. This year seems to be a special one, with Lovejoy nailing 2 of them within 2 months making a first ever kind of discovery, with his 'off-the-shelf' camera! And the veteran Levy discovered his 22nd one on Oct-2, just less than a degree close to the Ring-Planet Saturn, shocking so many other amateurs who would be observing/imaging Saturn that morning who werent lucky! Congrats to Broughton too, for getting one with a 10" scope.

I hope the era of amateur comet discoveries, even though slowly creeping towards a stand-still, yet has a bright future ahead. And we wish for more amateur discoveries in the years to come. Atleast hope the Edgar Wilson Award lures amateurs into it. 🙂

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Jon Collman

August 2, 2007 at 8:20 pm

Wonder what happened to McNaught, of Siding Springs, Australia? Certainly one of the most spectacular comets of the century!!
(Can't remember his first name....??)

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Amar A. Sharma

August 3, 2007 at 5:38 pm

Hi Jon, This Edgar Wilson Award is specially presented to amateurs who can contribute in form of comet discoveries using amateur equipment. What you are talking about, was no doubt one of this Century's brightest comets, C/2006 P1 (McNaught) but it was discovered by a professional comet hunter named Rob McNaught. He is currently working for Siding Spring Observatory, Australia along with team-mate Gordon Garradd. So they wont qualify for this amateur award.

More on this award can be found here:

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