IAU Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams

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The Edgar Wilson Award

IAUC 6936 announced the establishment of an award for amateur comet discoverers. Each Award is composed of a monetary award from the Edgar Wilson Charitable Trust Fund and an Award plaque (sample photographs via links below). The Award is allocated annually among the amateur astronomers who, using amateur equipment, have discovered one or more new comets. Only comets officially named for their discoverers shall be included in the annual count. Since particular recognition is to be given to the amateurs who discover the most comets, identical fractions of the total Award funds are allocated for each comet with an eligible discoverer, except that if the same comet is credited to more than one independent eligible discoverer, each discoverer shall receive a full fraction. If the discovery is made as the result of information produced or prepared by some other person, it shall not qualify for consideration. Eligible discoveries may be made by visual, photographic or electronic means.

The Award is administered by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), as the beneficiary under the Will of Edgar Wilson of Lexington, KY. This administration shall specifically be through the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT), which, with the advice of the Committee on Small Body Nomenclature (CSBN; formerly the Small Bodies Names Committee) of IAU Division III, has the responsibility for naming comets.

The funds available for the first annual Award amounted to approximately US$20000 (twenty thousand dollars), as a total amount to be split among the award winners for that year; in the years since the first Award, the amount of money available has oscillated considerably, usually below, but sometimes above, the first-year amount (evidently due to the investment policies of the bank trustees, which are kept confidential). For the purpose of this Award, the Award year is the period of twelve months beginning and ending on June 11.0 UT. The first Award was for the year ending on 1999 June 11.0. The Award is usually announced within a month after the end of each Award year.

To be eligible for the Award an individual must demonstrate:

  1. that he or she is acting in an amateur capacity, at least for the purpose of discovering the comet, and
  2. that only amateur, privately-owned equipment was used for the discovery.
In years when there are no eligible comet discoverers, the Award shall be made instead to the amateur astronomer(s) judged by the CBAT to have made the greatest contribution toward promoting an interest in the study of comets.

SAO employees associated with the CBAT, CSBN members, as well as members of their immediate families, are not eligible for the Award.

The Edgar Wilson Award is international in scope, and nationals of no country are excluded from consideration. An observer who suspects he or she has discovered a comet shall ensure that his or her discovery report reaches the CBAT according to the usual procedures. The CBAT shall maintain the necessary records and may contact the discoverers for eligibility documentation.

The decision of SAO (via the CBAT) is final and takes precedence over the description on this page.

Hypothetical Example

A rather contrived example shows most of the probable situations that can arise. In the year 2028, there were 13 discoveries of new comets:
  • C/2028 C1 (Papathanassiou); professional with professional telescope
  • C/2028 F1 (Oldfield); amateur
  • P/2028 F2 (Lennon-McCartney); two independent amateurs
  • C/2028 G1 (Harrison-Starr); two amateurs working together
  • P/2028 K1 (SONOFLINEAR); professional
  • C/2028 L1 (Papathanassiou); naked-eye discovery by professional in an entirely amateur capacity
  • C/2028 M2 (Oldfield); amateur
  • P/2028 O1 (Hail-Caesar); independent amateur and professional discovery
  • C/2028 S2 (Jarre); amateur locating comet on Palomar Sky Survey V
  • C/2028 T1 (Harrison); amateur while observing with the 1.5-m at Palomar
  • P/2028 U1 (Harrison-Clapton); joint amateur and professional discovery with professional equipment
  • C/2028 U2 (Harrison-Clapton); joint amateur and professional discovery with amateur equipment in an entirely amateur capacity
  • C/2028 X3 (Starr); amateur
  • In these examples the term 'amateur' alone means an amateur observing with amateur equipment. Similarly, 'professional' alone means a professional using professional equipment.
  • C/2028 G1 was by a team and is eligible for one share.
  • Although Papathanassiou is a professional, his discovery of C/2028 L1 is eligible because it was not using professional equipment.
  • C/2028 O1: Hail is eligible because he is an amateur, Caesar is not because he is a professional.
  • C/2028 S2 is not eligible because the information used for the discovery was prepared by someone else.
  • P/2028 U1 is not eligible because the discovery was not made with amateur equipment.
  • C/2028 U2 was by a team and is eligible for one share.
The shares per discovery are then as follows:
            By comet                         By discoverer
C/2028 C1 (Papathanassiou)     0       Oldfield        2   = 1+1
C/2028 F1 (Oldfield)           1       Starr           1.5 = 0.5+1
P/2028 F2 (Lennon-McCartney)   1+1     McCartney       1   = 1
C/2028 G1 (Harrison-Starr)    0.5+0.5  Harrison        1   = 0.5+0+0+0.5
P/2028 K1 (SONOFLINEAR)        0       Lennon          1   = 1
C/2028 L1 (Papathanassiou)     1       Papathanassiou  1   = 0+1
C/2028 M2 (Oldfield)           1       Hail            1   = 1
P/2028 O1 (Hail-Caesar)        1+0     Clapton         0.5 = 0+0.5
C/2028 S2 (Jarre)              0       SONOFLINEAR     0   = 0
C/2028 T1 (Harrison)           0       Caesar          0   = 0
P/2028 U1 (Harrison-Clapton)   0+0     Jarre           0   = 0
C/2028 U2 (Harrison-Clapton)  0.5+0.5          Total   9
C/2028 X3 (Starr)              1
                     Total     9       Estimated Award per share
                                       = 20000/9 = c. US$ 2222
Just for interest's sake, if this award had been operating prior to 1999 the number of eligible discoveries would be: 1995, 5; 1996, 6; 1997, 5; and 1998, 4.

The recipients of the Edgar Wilson Award to date are given on a separate webpage. Sample photographs of Award plaques are available here for 2007 Awards to David Levy and Terry Lovejoy.

As an experiment, we used Digital's AltaVista translation service to produce initial versions of the bulk of this webpage in French [cleaned up by Alain Maury], German [cleaned up by Maik Meyer], Italian [cleaned up by Mauro V. Zanotta] and Spanish [cleaned up by Federico Fdez. Pardavila]. Also, Alexandre Amorim (Florianopolis, Brazil) has kindly posted this webpage at his website in Portuguese. Our thanks to those translators named above. In cases where the translations differ in meaning from the English version, the English version takes precedence.

This webpage was updated on 2007 Sept. 24 (foreign-language translations not updated yet; they were based on an early version of this webpage that was written around the time of the first Award in 1999).

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