Comet Section - Annual Report 1998


Comet discoveries reached a new peak during the 1997 – 98 session thanks to the SOHO spacecraft and several asteroid search patrols.  A mammoth 63 comets were assigned provisional designations and one further SOHO comet has yet to receive one.  Five were recoveries of periodic comets, four were new discoveries by amateurs and 55, of which four were periodic, were new discoveries by professionals.  SOHO found the majority of them (41), and of these all but two were Kreutz group sungrazers.  CCD asteroid search teams found a further twelve and two were by Schmidt survey teams.  Six comets received new permanent numbers.  SOHO now has the record number of discoveries (55) but control of the spacecraft was lost in late June and it is probably lost.  The Lincoln Laboratory Near Earth Asteroid Research Project (LINEAR) is proving very prolific at discovering comets and has already found eight in only four months of operation.


Thankfully no great comets have appeared during the year, although the first SOHO comet observed from the ground (1998 J1) did come close.  Observations of comet Hale-Bopp (1995 O1) are still coming in and there are now over 3200 magnitude observations and over 750 drawings, photographs and images logged in the section files.  Over 20 other comets have been visible to members, though few observers attempt them when fainter than 11th magnitude.  Light curves and observations of comets were displayed at the Exhibition Meeting in June and are published in the Section newsletter.  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 1991 and 1992 by the Director and a paper on comet Hyakutake by Nick James were published in the Journal.  Papers on the comets of 1993 and 1994 by the Director and on comet Bennett by Michael Hendrie were accepted for publication.  The Director prepared two issues of the section newsletter ‘The Comet’s Tale’ and the comets section of the 1999 Handbook.  Exchanges of our newsletter with numerous overseas comet-observing groups continued and many now contribute their observations by e-mail.  The Director helped several professional astronomers with research inquiries.  The Section World Wide Web pages continue to provide up to date information and are used by many observers and professionals.  Around 50 members attended the Section meeting held in Cambridge in February. 


Sadly the deaths of Section members Stan Milbourn and Paul Doherty occurred during the session and their obituaries have appeared in the Journal.  The comet Section's Keedy prize for 1997 was presented to Melvyn Taylor at the Birmingham ‘out of London’ meeting.  Thanks are due to David Keedy for making this award possible. Two Section members were again successful in obtaining Ridley grants: Gabriel Oksa received one to purchase a CCD camera and Chris Taylor one to purchase digital setting circles.


Jonathan Shanklin


Section Officials 1997 - 98


Director                                                  Jonathan Shanklin

Assistant Director                                    Guy Hurst

CCD Advisor                                         Nick James

Photograpic Advisor                               Michael Hendrie