Comet Section - Annual Report 1997

Comet discoveries have been boosted during the past year by the SOHO spacecraft, which is proving prolific in detecting sungrazing comets. Professional survey teams have also done much better at discovering comets this year. Amateur astronomers have accidently discovered two comets, one during a search for asteroids and the other whilst imaging another comet and two others were discovered during deliberate searches.

During the session 36 comets were assigned provisional designations; six were recoveries of periodic comets five of which received new permanent numbers, four were new discoveries by amateurs (one is periodic) and the remaining 26, of which three are periodic, were new discoveries by professionals. These included 14 by SOHO, of which nine are Kreutz group sungrazers and three from a new group of sungrazers, seven by Schmidt survey teams and five by CCD survey teams.

The Director and Assistant Director have been kept very busy with observations of comet Hale-Bopp (1995 O1). Their work was increased by many observers giving incomplete or incorrect information on first submission. Full details of the information required is given in the Section Guide. Several other comets have been visible to members, though sadly most observers neglected them in preference to the more spectacular object. Thomas Bopp toured Europe in 1997 June and John Mason arranged, at short notice, for him to give a couple of lectures to the Association. Light curves and observations of comets, including a large selection of the many photographs, drawings and images of Hale-Bopp received, were displayed at the Exhibition Meeting in June. One exhibit of particular note was a series of large format prints of Hale-Bopp taken by Glyn Marsh using Harold Ridley's astrographic lens. The Section's 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.

A paper on 'The two bright comets of 1957' by Michael Hendrie was published in the Journal and a paper on comet Hyakutake by Nick James was accepted for publication. Comet news featured in several Notes and News. Two issues of the section newsletter 'The Comet's Tale' were prepared 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 Rothera station from the mid November to late December. Whilst the Director was away he was able to complete entry of data for periodic comets from the Section archives.

The comet section's Keedy prize for 1996 was presented to Gabriel Oksa from Starohajska, Slovakia, who started observing comets in the UK whilst on a studentship at Loughborough University and rapidly developed into a dedicated observer. Thanks are due to David Keedy for making this award possible. Two section members were successful in obtaining Ridley grants: Glyn Marsh received one to purchase some more large format plates for the astrograph and James Abbott one to help complete his observatory and turn it into a local facility.

Jonathan Shanklin