By Kelly Beatty
Now in its 15th year, the Edgar Wilson Award recognizes comet discoveries made by amateur observers. The 2013 awards honor seven dedicated individuals who scan the skies.
Comet discoveries from Africa are rare, but Claudine Rinner has spotted three using a robotic telescope at Oukaïmeden Observatory in Morocco.
Tucked at the bottom of the International Astronomical Union Circular 9269, issued on April 30th, is a paragraph listing the names of seven amateur observers, scattered around the world, who found a comet between June 2012 and June 2013. These individuals are the 2013 recipients of the Edgar Wilson Award for comet discoveries by amateurs. Each will receive a nice plaque to commemorate his accomplishment and, perhaps best of all, a nice cash award. This year’s recipients will share equally in a $42,000 prize fund. Here’s the list of winners and their finds:
- Paulo Holvorcem, Campinas, Brazil, for C/2013 D1
- Masayuki Iwamoto, Awa, Japan, for C/2013 E2
- Tomas Vorobjov, Bratislava, Slovak Rep., for P/2012 T7
- Claudine Rinner, Ottmarsheim, France, for three comets named MOSS
- Michael Schwartz, Rio Rico, Arizona, for several comets named Tenagra
- Vitali Nevski, Vitebsk, Belarus, for Comet ISON (C/2012 S1)
- Artyom Novichonok, Kondopoga, Russia, for Comet ISON (C/2012 S1)
The first three of these objects bear the surname of their respective discoverers. (To become immortal in the annals of astronomy, go find a comet!)
Artyom Novichonok (left) and Vitali Nevski pose with the 16-inch reflector they used to discover Comet ISON (C/2012 S1).
But the last four do not. Instead, these recognize teams or networks of telescopes involved in the discovery. ISON, for example, stands for International Scientific Optical Network. This famous find, which had everyone’s attenion late last year, should have been called Comet Nevski-Novichonok. But the two discoverers reported that they’d spotted a fuzzless asteroid — only later did others note its cometary appearance.
Technically, the rules for the Edgar Wilson Award stipulate that only those comets named for their discoverers should be eligible. In fact, a press release from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics lists the same seven awardees — but a somewhat different set of corresponding comets.
The issue is that sometimes it’s hard to know just exactly who qualifies as an amateur astronomer these days. Take, for example, the La Sagra Sky Survey. This group of amateur observers is using robotic telescopes in southern Spain to search for near-Earth asteroids, and one of the scopes occasionally sweeps up a comet. They’re doing good work, and team member Jaime Nomen won a share of the 2011 Edgar Wilson award. But in recent years the Spanish observers have started to get some funding for their work — so are they still amateurs or not?
The “big gun” at the privately owned Tenagra Observatories is this 32-inch Ritchey-Chrétien reflector. Owner Michael Schwartz has used this and other scopes to hunt for comets and near-Earth asteroids.
Or consider Tenagra Observatories in Arizona. It’s an observatory complex in southern Arizona that’s privately owned by Michael Schwartz. Little more than a dream concept several years ago, Tenagra now boasts a fully automated 32-inch reflector and a 16-inch astrograph with a 1