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10 April 2014 11:44 am ,
Vol. 344 ,
Balkan endemic kidney disease surfaced in the 1950s and for decades defied attempts to finger the cause. It occurred...
The Pyrenean ibex, an impressive mountain goat that lived in the central Pyrenees in Spain, went extinct in 2000. But a...
Tight budgets are forcing NASA to consider turning off one or more planetary science projects that have completed their...
Ebola is not a stranger to West Africa—an outbreak in the 1990s killed chimpanzees and sickened one researcher. But the...
In an as-yet-unpublished report, an international panel of geoscientists has concluded that a pair of deadly...
Tropical disease experts tried and failed before to eradicate yaws, a rare disfiguring disease of poor countries. Now,...
Since 2002, researchers have reported that agricultural communities in the hot and humid Pacific Coast of Central...
- 10 April 2014 11:44 am , Vol. 344 , #6180
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Comets to Shower Pennies from Heaven
22 June 1998 7:00 pm
Amateur astronomers could find comet-spotting a lucrative pastime, thanks to a $20,000 annual prize established this month by the estate of a deceased Kentucky businessman. Ironically, however, the contest has begun after two new observatories have made it extremely difficult for amateurs to spy a new comet before the pros do.
The award, named for Edgar Wilson, a wealthy agriculturist and comet enthusiast who died in 1976, is intended to promote the study of comets. The prize money will be divvied up each June among the amateurs who score first sightings; in the past, amateurs have spotted a half-dozen or so new comets each year. The prize will be administered by the Central Bureau of Astronomical Telegrams and its parent organization, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Anyone not using powerful telescopes, such as those housed in major observatories, is eligible--professional astronomers included.
The prize money likely won't lead to more findings, says Brian Marsden, director of the Central Bureau. Professional astronomers using two observatories--the satellite SOHO and ground-based LINEAR--have a lock on nearly all of the comets visible from Earth, he says. He points out that two famous amateur finds in the last decade--comets Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp--were discovered before SOHO and LINEAR came online. "As time goes by, there will be very few amateur discoveries of comets," predicts Marsden. If that happens, he says, "we will try to take into account [amateurs] who made a contribution to astronomy and cometry."