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17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
Vol. 344 ,
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
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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."