"Dis­cov­er­ing a comet re­quires a lot of luck and de­ter­mi­na­tion"

All About Space - - Stargazer -

how did you end up dis­cov­er­ing comet c/2012 c2 (Bru­en­jes)?

For decades I had wanted to dis­cover my own comet, but it took a com­bi­na­tion of fi­nally hav­ing the time, money, real es­tate and equip­ment be­fore it be­came rea­son­able to per­form a sys­tem­atic search.

I used a 0.35-me­tre (14-inch) f/2 te­le­scope and cam­era with a wide field of view (three by two de­grees), a mod­i­fied mount to slew faster and a custom soft­ware ap­pli­ca­tion to search parts of the sky that were op­ti­mal for lo­cat­ing a comet but hadn't been checked by the pro­fes­sion­als within the past month. Once the sys­tem had been as­sem­bled, I ran it as of­ten as the clouds and Moon would al­low.

Was it luck or de­ter­mi­na­tion (or both) that led to the dis­cov­ery of this comet?

There was both luck and de­ter­mi­na­tion; as an en­gi­neer I com­puted cov­er­ages, prob­a­bil­i­ties and op­ti­mised my equip­ment and search strat­egy to give me the best chance of find­ing a comet.

It took years to as­sem­ble the gear. Once the search pro­gram be­gan, it was only about 76 hours of te­le­scope time be­fore I found a small comet in out­burst that no one else had no­ticed, even though it was quite close to the Earth.

I con­sider my­self ex­tremely lucky to have found a comet in that short of an amount of time; most am­a­teur comet hun­ters wait many hun­dreds or even thou­sands of hours for a dis­cov­ery.

What ad­vice would you have for any­one try­ing to dis­cover a comet or any other Neo?

With large-aper­ture pro­fes­sional sur­veys vac­u­um­ing up dis­cov­er­ies, you need to ob­tain the largest aper­ture te­le­scope you can af­ford, the widest field of view and then look in the cracks be­tween and around their nor­mal search ar­eas.

Their search strate­gies and ob­ser­va­tion logs are freely avail­able on the in­ter­net and can be used to iden­tify ar­eas of the sky that are be­ing missed in their reg­u­lar sur­veys. The al­ter­na­tive is to check main­stream parts of the sky very fre­quently to try to beat the pro­fes­sion­als to a dis­cov­ery they would make any­way a few days later, but that doesn't feel like a worth­while sci­en­tific con­tri­bu­tion to me.

Named af­ter its dis­cov­erer ed­mond hal­ley, hal­ley’s comet

was first ob­served in 1758

fred’s equip­ment was care­fully as­sem­bled to dis­cover a comet

comets are a joy to be­hold in the sky due to their im­pres­sive tails

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