Comet Section - Annual Report 1996

Comet discoveries have declined over the past year with the closing of several professional asteroid and comet search programs. During the session only 15 comets were assigned provisional designations; six were recoveries of periodic comets which also received permanent numbers, five were new discoveries by amateurs and the remaining four, of which one was periodic, were new discoveries by professionals. One of the recoveries was the unexpected return of comet 122P/de Vico which was discovered by Japanese amateurs.

The Director and Assistant Director have been kept very busy with observations of the bright comets Hyakutake (1996 B2) and Hale-Bopp (1995 O1). Comet Hyakutake is now the most observed comet in section records, but it is likely to be overtaken by Hale-Bopp before the year is out. Several other comets have been visible to members, and light curves and observations were displayed at the exhibition meeting in June. The observations have been published in The Astronomer magazine by Guy Hurst and also in the International Comet Quarterly; full reports will appear in the Journal in due course.

Papers on: Comet analyses, Comet Levy 1990c, Comet Shoemaker-Levy 1991 a1 and The comets of 1990 were published in the Journal. Papers on the comets of 1991 and 1992, both by the Director, and on the bright comets of 1957 by Michael Hendrie were accepted for publication. A guide to observing comets was published in February and has sold well. Nick James prepared a preliminary review of comet Hyakutake for the Journal and is now preparing a full paper. He also edited a supplement for The Astronomer magazine on the comet. Two issues of the section newsletter 'The Comet's Tale' were prepared by the Director. A chapter on comets in Patrick Moore's book The Observational Amateur Astronomer was written by the Director.

Exchanges of our newsletter with several European comet observing groups continued and many now submit observations by e-mail. A section page has been set up on the world wide web and is used by many observers. The Director was again out of the country, working at the British Antarctic Survey's Faraday station from the mid November to early February. Whilst the Director was away he was able to prepare draft reports on the comets of 1993 to 1995.

John Smith resigned as photographic coordinator in November so that he could concentrate on CCD work; he is replaced by former section Director Michael Hendrie. Thanks to John for his work over the past few years. A very successful section meeting was held at the Institute of Astronomy on 1996 June 8 when observations of comet Hyakutake and plans for observing comet Hale-Bopp were discussed. The comet section's Keedy prize for 1995 was presented at the meeting to Alex Vincent for his dedicated photographic work. Thanks are due to David Keedy for making this award possible.

Jonathan Shanklin