Amateur Twenty-First Century Comet Hunters
Before the era of automated professional CCD patrols the names of amateur comet discoverers who had bagged comets simply by sweeping the skies visually would regularly appear in IAU circulars. Many amateurs, including myself, feel rather sad that hardly any visual comet discoverers have survived the onslaught of the remorseless machines. In my younger days seeing the names of legendary figures like Bill Bradfield, David Levy and Don Machholz appear in astronomical circulars made me feel that there was still a link to the good old days of the amateur beating the professional through a sheer love of the night skies, rather than simply throwing funds at a technical problem. I have met a number of comet discoverers in my life, most of them at the August 1999 International Workshop on Cometary Astronomy (IWCA) in Cambridge, England (see Fig. 4.1). I knew the UK discoverer George Alcock (see Fig. 4.2) very well and filmed a video documentary of his life in 1991 and I have also met Roy Panther, briefly, on a couple of occasions. George succeeded because, to him, studying nature was a compulsive ritual, not a chore. He observed birds, flowers and trees for his whole life and sketched everything he saw. Observing the night sky was a routine for him. If it was clear he would sweep the skies with binoculars. It was not tedious to him. He simply enjoyed it and could not ignore a clear night. Ultimately his fascination with the star patterns enabled him to memorize some 30,000 Milky Way stars as seen through his 15 × 80 binoculars! As well as being fascinated by George I was always impressed by the dedication of the Japanese comet hunters and recall that in the late 1960s and 1970s there almost always seemed to be a triple barreled Japanese comet name in the sky!