Comet Section - Annual Report 2002
The highlight of the year has been comet Ikeya-Zhang. This turned out to be a recovery of a periodic comet last seen in 1661 and perhaps at a couple of earlier returns. It reached 3rd magnitude and appeared in the evening sky as the classic image of a comet, with a bright nuclear condensation and a long, straight tail. A large number of observations were received. The session was graced with several bright comets, with 2000 WM1 and 2001 A2 reaching naked eye brightness in addition to 2002 C1. There were another three binocular objects and fifteen telescopic comets.
The total number of comet discoveries was 184, with 137 found on SOHO imagery. The Director's suggestion that there should be many non-Kreutz comets in the archival data proved correct, with nearly 25% of the SOHO discoveries in this category. Of the other 47 comets given designations during the session, three were recoveries of periodic comets, (including Ikeya-Zhang and the accidental recovery of 11P), and 42, of which 15 were periodic, were new discoveries by professional search teams. Some of these were co-discoveries and some received individual observer's names. LINEAR found 25, NEAT 12 and LONEOS 5. Unusually these days, amateurs discovered five comets of which three were periodic. The two periodic comets recovered at their first observed return received new permanent numbers, bringing the total to 153. Several further asteroidal objects in unusual orbits were also discovered.
Guy Hurst has continued to publish the Section’s observations in The Astronomer magazine and they have also appeared in the International Comet Quarterly. Papers on the comets of 1996 and 1997 by the Director and one on sungrazing comets by Kenelm England were published in the Journal. A paper on the comets of 1998 by the Director and one by Michael Hendrie on comet Kobayashi-Berger-Milon were accepted for publication. The revised edition of the Section Observing Guide was published in time for Astrofest and is selling well. 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. He was interviewed by the Today Programme on Radio 4 in connection with comet Ikeya-Zhang and appeared on TV with Paul Roche. The Section World Wide Web pages continue to provide up to date information and are used by many observers and professionals.
Section Officials 2001 - 2002
Director Jonathan Shanklin
Assistant Director Guy Hurst
CCD Advisor Nick James
Photograpic Advisor Michael Hendrie