Finding the Next Hale–Bopp with your Gear
So, what lessons can be learned from the amateur discoveries of recent years covered in the previous chapter? Well, let us not be under any illusions here: discovering comets is not easy for the twenty-first century amateur astronomer! I have ambitiously titled this chapter “Finding the next Hale–Bopp with your gear.” Obviously I live in a fantasy world you might think? Well, maybe, but the title probably grabbed your attention for starters. Let us be honest here; for most amateur astronomers any comet discovery is a major achievement. There are tens of thousands of amateur astronomers worldwide, but only a fraction of a percent of them will ever discover a comet. Nevertheless, in the CCD era it is obvious that faint comets can be discovered while carrying out routine astrometric or photometric work on comets and asteroids in the ecliptic plane. The advanced amateur can reach a limiting stellar magnitude of 20 with ease and there are still objects brighter than that magnitude waiting to be discovered. Many of the amateur comet discoveries of recent years have been detected with amateur CCD systems during the course of routine astrometric work on NEOs discovered days earlier by the professional patrols. At the other end of the scale we can see that discoveries with digital SLRs using 100–200 mm lenses have been made too. The remorseless machines can be beaten because even the best systems can be clouded out and even the best software can be confused by dense Milky Way backgrounds and by moonlight. So while you may not discover the next Hale–Bopp you may discover something.