Christine Pulliam
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CfA Press Release
 Release No.: 03-16
For Release: July 7, 2003

2003 Comet Awards Announced

Cambridge, MA - An annual award of several thousand dollars for discoveries of comets by amateur astronomers has just been announced for the fifth consecutive year.

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), part of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has announced the recipients of the 2003 Edgar Wilson Award for the discovery of comets by amateurs during the calendar year ending June 10. The award 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 will receive plaques and a cash award:

  • Sebastian F. Hoenig of Dossenheim, Germany, for his visual discovery of comet C/2002 O4 on 22 July 2002.
  • Tetuo Kudo of Kikuchi, Kumamoto, Japan, and Shigehisa Fujikawa of Mitoyo, Kagawa, Japan, for their independent visual discoveries of comet C/2002 X5 on 12 and 13 December 2002.
  • Charles W. Juels of Fountain Hills, Arizona, and Paulo R. C. Holvorcem of Campinas, Brazil, for their joint charge-coupled-device (CCD) electronic-camera discovery of comet C/2002 Y1 on 28 December 2002.

Comet C/2002 X5 is observer Fujikawa's sixth credited comet discovery. His first comet discovery came in 1969, more than three decades ago. He is the only winner this year credited with previous comet discoveries.

Co-discoverer Tetuo Kudo is a well-known astrophotographer in Japan who started searching for comets some years ago. He discovered C/2002 X5 while he was waiting to finish an exposure.

Comet C/2002 O4 (Hoenig) is the first visual amateur comet discovery from Germany since C/1946 K1 (Pajdusakova-Rotbart-Weber). Hoenig also has detected nearly 20 comets in images from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite. More than 600 comets have been found by SOHO over its 8 years of operation.

Comet C/2002 Y1 (Juels-Holvorcem) was discovered in the first night of using a wide-field (2.3 x 2.3 degrees) camera on a 5-inch refractor to search for bright objects. Juels and Holvorcem collaborate over the internet with the help of "fast"ADSL connections, which make it easy to communicate and transfer images in near-real time between their homes in Arizona and Brazil, respectively.

At the beginning of the 17th century, Johannes Kepler thought there were more comets in the skies than there were fish in the seas. Many other people then still clung to the view of malevolent visitors bent on mischief prowling through the earth's atmosphere, whereby comets were seen as harbingers of doom, creators of earthquakes, disasters, famine, defeat in battles and deaths of kings. Going back to ancient times, the sudden appearance of comets, their enormous size, and their just-as-sudden departures raised superstitious fears wherever they were observed.

Hundreds of comets were observed and recorded before the invention of the telescope in 1609, and the number of discoveries soared when better-quality telescopes came into use in the 18th century. Armed with small instruments that pale in comparison to ones available to amateur astronomers today, the race to discover new comets and gain recognition and fame began.

Nicknamed the "Ferret of Comets" by the King of France in the 1760s, Charles Messier became one of the most famous comet hunters of all time. He just missed the recovery of Halley's comet in December 1758 at its first predicted return, but for the next fifteen years, nearly all comet discoveries were made by Messier. It was rumored that he may have been even more upset over the discovery of a comet by a rival while he was attending his dying wife than he was over her death.

Nearly two hundred years have passed since the comet discoveries of Messier. Today amateur astronomers continue to discover new comets that may bear their names for eternity. Fighting increasing light pollution and competition from sophisticated professional observatories, the challenges and rewards have become even greater. There have been numerous comet awards over the centuries, but the Wilson Award is currently the largest publicly known award.

In 2002, there were seven recipients of the Award. Of the 25 Award recipients in the first five years, 15 have been for visual discoveries, eight for discoveries from CCD images, and one for a discovery from a photograph. The countries with the most recipients so far are the United States (5), Japan (6), and Australia (4). In years when there are no eligible comet discoverers, the Award is made instead to amateur astronomers judged by the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT) to have made important contributions toward observing comets or promoting an interest in the study of comets.

(NOTE TO EDITORS: Images associated with release are available at:

Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 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 seven research divisions study the origin, evolution, and ultimate fate of the universe.

For more information, contact:

David Aguilar, Director of Public Affairs
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Phone: 617-495-7462 Fax: 617-495-7468

Christine Lafon
Public Affairs Specialist
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Phone: 617-495-7463, Fax: 617-495-7016

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