Comet Section - Annual Report 2001

In November long standing Section member Albert Jones made the accidental discovery of a comet whilst making a variable star observation. What makes this more unusual is that this was Albert's second discovery, made 54 years after the first, which was found in similar circumstances. The discovery makes Albert the oldest ever comet discoverer and his is the longest interval between comet discoveries. Sadly an even longer standing member, George Alcock, who had discovered five comets, died in December. A memorial service was held in Peterborough cathedral in February. Michael Oates discovered 87 SOHO comets during the session and received the Steavenson Award at the Exhibition Meeting. The Director discovered one further SOHO comet, a non-Kreutz group object.

Comet discoveries were again the highest on record, with 173 found on SOHO imagery alone, at least in part through discovery of comets in archival data. Of the other 39 comets given designations during the session, seven were recoveries of periodic comets, though two were accidental, and 31, of which fourteen were periodic, were new discoveries by professionals. Amateurs discovered only one comet and Albert Jones and Syogo Utsunomiya jointly received the Edgar Wilson award for their discovery of 2000 W1. Search teams found all bar one of the remainder. LINEAR found 16, LONEOS 9, NEAT 8 and Spacewatch 4. Some of these were co-discoveries and some received individual observer's names. The seven periodic comets recovered at their first observed return and one where asteroidal prediscovery images were found on earlier survey plates, received new permanent numbers. Several further asteroidal objects in unusual orbits were also discovered.

Comet 2001 A2 reached naked eye visibility for Southern Hemisphere observers and five binocular comets were on view during the session. Members have observed 26 comets, though only a few observers follow them when fainter than 11th magnitude. Light curves and observations of the better observed comets were displayed at the Exhibition Meeting in July and are published in the Section newsletter. Michael Oates exhibited a display of some of his SOHO comets at the Exhibition Meeting.

Guy Hurst has continued to publish the Section’s observations in The Astronomer magazine and they have also appeared in the International Comet Quarterly. During the Director's absence in Antarctica from mid November to mid January he was able to enter the remaining archival observations into the Section database, which now holds 36,270 observations by 714 observers of nearly 500 cometary apparitions.

A paper on the comets of 1995 by the Director was published in the Journal. Papers on the comets of 1997 and 1998 by the Director were accepted for publication and one by Michael Hendrie on comet Kobayashi-Berger-Milon was submitted. A revised edition of the Section Observing Guide is at the printers. The Director prepared two issues of the section newsletter ‘The Comet’s Tale’. Exchanges of our newsletter with numerous overseas comet-observing groups continued and many contribute their observations by e-mail. The Director helped several amateur and professional astronomers and the media with research inquiries. The Section World Wide Web pages continue to provide up to date information and are used by many observers and professionals.

Jonathan Shanklin


Section Officials 2000 - 2001

Director Jonathan Shanklin

Assistant Director Guy Hurst

CCD Advisor Nick James

Photograpic Advisor Michael Hendrie