Comet Discoveries Garner 2012 Edgar Wilson Award
January 30, 2013

Amateur Comet Discoverers Receive Prestigious 2012 Edgar Wilson Award

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

The 2012 Edgar Wilson Award for the discovery of comets by amateurs was announced this week by the Minor Planet Center, located at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass. The awards, created and funded by the will of the late business man Edgar Wilson of Lexington, Kentucky, have been given out for 14 consecutive years.

Five recipients received plaques and cash awards this year:

• Leonid Elenin of Russia, for his discovery of comet P/2011 N1 on 2011 July 7
• Artyom Novichonok of Russia, for his co-discovery of comet P/2011 R3 on 2011 Sept. 7
• Vladimir Gerke of Russia, for his co-discovery of comet P/2011 R3 on 2011 Sept. 7
• Terry Lovejoy of Australia, for his discovery of comet C/2011 W3 on 2011 Nov. 27
• Fred Bruenjes of Warrenburg, Missouri, for his discovery of comet C/2012 C2 on 2012 Feb. 11

Lovejoy received a Wilson award in 2007 for the discovery of two comets, but this latest find makes him the first astronomer in over 40 years to discover a Kreutz sungrazing comet from a ground-based observation. The comet, which was nicknamed the Great Christmas Comet of 2011, dazzled observers in the southern hemisphere.

This is also a second Wilson Award for Elenin, and a second comet discovery. The other three winners are all first time recipients of the Wilson Awards.

The historical naming of the comet for the finder has more meaning for most amateur astronomers than any award. However, the Edgar Wilson Award gives extra prestige and notice to their efforts, which usually involve long hours observing, with no financial aid. This is unlike most professional astronomers who discover comets via surveys with large telescopes. Because large professional telescopes with automated CCD searches have dominated comet discovery since 1998, the contributions of amateurs deserve special recognition.

Over the centuries, there have been many other comet awards, but the Wilson Award is currently the largest publicly known award.

If, in a particular year, there are no eligible comet discoveries, the Award instead goes to amateur astronomers judged by the Minor Planet Center to have made important contributions toward observing comets or promoting an interest in the study of comets.