The Minor Planet Center, located at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) in Cambridge, Mass., has announced the recipients of the 2012 Edgar Wilson Award for the discovery of comets by amateurs. This is the fourteenth consecutive year that these awards have been given; money for the awards was set aside as part of the will bequeathed by the late businessman Edgar Wilson of Lexington, Kentucky, and administered by the SAO.
The following five discoverers receive plaques and a cash award 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
With his latest find, Lovejoy became the first astronomer in over 40 years to discover a Kreutz sungrazing comet from a ground-based observation. The comet dazzled observers in the southern hemisphere and was nicknamed the Great Christmas Comet of 2011. Lovejoy also received a Wilson Award in 2007 for the discovery of two comets.
This is the second Wilson Award, and second comet discovery, for Elenin. Novichonok, Gerke, and Bruenjes are first-time Wilson Award winners.
For most amateur astronomers, the historical naming of the comet for them has more meaning than any award, but the bestowment of the Edgar Wilson Award gives extra prestige and notice to their effort. Amateur comet discoverers usually put in long hours observing, with no financial aid, unlike the professional astronomers who discover most comets nowadays via surveys with large telescopes. Automated CCD searches with large professional telescopes have dominated comet discovery since 1998, so the contributions of amateurs deserve special recognition.
There have been numerous comet awards over the centuries, but the Wilson Award is currently the largest publicly known award.
In years when there are no eligible comet discoverers, the award is made instead 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.
Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.