Comet Section - Annual Report 1994

Comet discoveries and recoveries were not as frequent as in recent sessions, with 'only' 22 comets being given provisional letter designations in 1993. Comets 1993 q to 1993 v and 1994 a to 1994 l have been given provisional letter designations. Nine of these were new discoveries, two being periodic and nine were recoveries of periodic comets. Four comets which are visible all round their orbit were not given provisional letter designations and a further comet was discovered on old UK Schmidt plates by Rob McNaught. Two more comets were jointly discovered by Carolyn & Eugene Shoemaker and David Levy in the course of the search for planet-crossing asteroids, but only the first carries the name Shoemaker-Levy. In future comets discovered by teams of observers will carry only the name of the first team member; the second comet is therefore just comet Shoemaker. With another visual discovery by David Levy this brings the total to 32 for Carolyn Shoemaker, and 21 for Levy.

Several of the comets have been visible to members, and many observations have been received; full reports will appear in the Journal in due course. The two most interesting discoveries were perhaps the recovery of P/Spitaler, last seen in 1890 which was imaged by Martin Mobberley at 17th magnitude and that of Comet McNaught-Russell which was found to have the very long period of around 1430 years, having last returned in 574.

A paper for the Journal, recording the section observations of P/Swift-Tuttle, 1992 t, was prepared by Martin Mobberley. Further papers on comets Levy 1990 c and Shoemaker-Levy 1991 a1 have been submitted. A display of photographs and light curves of recent comets, together with simple instructions on how to make magnitude estimates was presented at the exhibition meeting in June.

The session has seen some changes in personel: Denis Buczinsky found it difficult to combine the newsletter editorial duties with his heavy observational program and James Lancashire has succeeded him as editor. During the session, one newsletter was issued by the director, one by Denis Buczinsky and one by James Lancashire. Sadly Harold Ridley has had to stand down as photographic co-ordinator after many years of service to the comet section. The Director was out of the country, working at the British Antarctic Survey's Halley station from the beginning of November to mid January and during this time James Lancashire looked after the section. Whilst the Director was away he was able to continue typing up the observations in the section archives for submission to the ICQ. Another voyage should complete the job, however there are many magnitude estimates that still need reducing. Guy Hurst is now receiving most of the visual observations, which he types into computer format, publishes in TA and forwards to the Director. The Director attended the International Workshop on Cometary Astronomy held at Selvino, Italy in February and has been asked to organise the next one, to be held in England in August 1999.

Jonathan Shanklin