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14 Space Discoveries By Amateur Astronomers

Amateur astronomy is a fascinating hobby. Today, amateur astronomers are easily being recognized for their important contribution to what we know about the universe and their numbers are increasing. But, this trend is not new. With advanced and cost effective telescopes and gadgets more and more people are gazing the night sky. Here are 12 of those, who made some of the significant discoveries till date and largely contributed towards astronomy. 

14. Andrew Ainslie Common

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Andrew Common was a British amateur astronomer. He gained his interest in astronomy at the age of 10 when he got his first telescope. Although, his career was in the field of sanitary engineering, he is noted for his early works in the field of Astrophotography. For those who have some doubts, Astrophotography is a unique photography technique for recording images of astronomical objects. His most notable work was the long time exposures he made of the Orion Nebula between 1880 and 1884. The photographic evidences of the Orion nebula by him showed that this process can discover previously hidden features which are invisible to the unaided human eye.

13. Radio Galaxies

Grote Reber was an American born amateur astronomer and a pioneer of radio astronomy. Reber started his career as a radio operator, while working for various radio manufacturers in Chicago from 1933 to 1947. It was during this time, being inspired by Karl Jansky’s work, he decided to work in the field of radio astronomy.

In 1937, he successfully built his own radio telescope consisting of a parabolic sheet metal dish of 9 meters in diameter, focusing to a radio receiver 8 meters placed above the dish. Though, his first two receivers failed to detect cosmic signals, he was successful in his third attempt. After the World War 2, he made a groundbreaking discovery in the field, by discovering Cygnus A and Cassiopeia A for the first time.

12. William Bradfield

William Ashley Bradfield was an Australian amateur astronomer most notable for his prolific discoveries of comets. To sum up his astronomical achievements, Brian G. Marsden, director emeritus of the IAU’s Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams: “To discover 18 comets visually, is an extraordinary accomplishment in any era, but to do so now is truly remarkable, and I think we can be pretty sure nobody will be able to do it again. And it’s all the more astounding that in no case did he have to share a discovery with some other independent discoverer. More than any other recipient, Bill Bradfield outstandingly deserves the Edgar Wilson Award”.

Born in 1927, he grew up on a dairy farm in Levin, New Zealand, where he gradually developed his vast interest in astronomy. He discovered his first Comet (C/1972 E1) just a year after he started hunting for new comets in 1972. It took him six years to discover 6 more comets and by 2004, he made his tally to 18 comets.

Read: 30 Latest Space Discoveries and Achievements

11. John Broughton

Near Earth Objects

John Broughton is among the most accomplished discoverers of minor planets worldwide. Most of his observations are done at the Reedy Creek Observatory in Queensland, Australia. Broughton is credited with Minor Planet Center with more than an eight hundred minor planets discovery between 1997 and 2008. Alongside minor planets, he also discovered two comets and several Near Earth Objects (NEOs).

10. Alan Hale And Thomas Bopp Discover a Comet At Same Time in 1995

Hale-Bopp was an unusually bright comet that lingered near the Earth in the late 1990s, reaching its perihelion in 1997. It was most spectacular in the Northern Hemisphere and was visible to the unaided eye for about 18 long months twice as long as the Great Comet of 1811. The comet was first ever spotted independently by two American amateur astronomers, Alan Hale in New Mexico and Thomas Bopp in Arizona. Although, Alan Hale had a Ph.D. in astronomy, he was still regarded as an amateur. Thomas Bopp, however, was a proper amateur astronomer.

On July, 23 1995, both men were observing the Messier 70 or M70 cluster. Each noticed something that had not been there previously. Within hours they realized that it was a comet due to the speed with which it was moving, and both submitted their sightings to the International Astronomical Union’s Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. On a side note, during the appearance of Hale-Bopp, about 40 people who were part of the “Heaven’s Gate” cult in San Diego committed mass suicide as the comet came close to Earth.

9. A Galaxy From Farmers Field in 2013

In 2002, Sidonio returned to his childhood passion; astronomy from being an accomplished regular on the Australian “strongman” circuit. His picture even graced some cereal boxes. It was back in 2013, while photographing the NGC 253 Sculpture galaxy from a field in Canberra, Sidonio noticed a small, elongated smudge that he had not seen before. He later found that it was not plotted in any of his reference charts and also unnoticed by the professional astronomers.

It turned out to be a new dwarf galaxy, which after verification, was named “NGC 253 dw2“. The galactic garrotte lies about 160,000 light-years away from NGC 253: which is nearly the distance between the Large Magellanic Cloud and us, easily close enough to be held within NGC 253’s gravitational grip. The discovery of the dwarf galaxy is important for scientists as it appears to be in an ongoing process of being destroyed by its larger spiral neighbor. Studying this new galaxy should allow scientists to have visual proof that larger galaxies are formed from their smaller counterparts.

8. Uranus in 1781

Frederick William Herschel was a British astronomer and a telescope maker and a composer who discovered planet Uranus in 1781. Though he became a well-known and respected astronomer later in his career, when he made the discovery of Uranus, he was anything but an amateur in the field. While surveying the night sky, looking for “double star”, he stopped on something very unexpected and strange. Due to its fuzzy disk shape he initially thought it was a comet.

But after a couple more days of observations, he noticed that the object was too slow for being a comet, and is actually positioned further away from Saturn- the farthest known planet during that time. At that point of time he realized that if he is still able to see that object, then it must be a new planet. Herschel tried to name the new planet after his benefactor, King George III. But, it was eventually named after the father of Saturn, Uranus, to fit with the mythological naming scheme of the other planets.

7. Scars On Jupiter in 2009 and 2010

On 19 July 2009, siting in his own back yard, while gazing at the sky Anthony Wesley spotted a hole on Jupiter’s surface which was later confirmed to be more or less exactly the size of the Earth. Upon the discovery, he contacted NASA with photographs of the “scar“. The cause of this was thought to have been a comet or an asteroid strike on Jupiter’s surface. Prior to these discoveries, scientists were not sure that astronomical impacts of this relatively small size could be observed from Earth.

Soon a year later in 2010, Wesley was visiting a friend, when with his telescope he took an image of a small celestial object burning up in the Jupiter atmosphere. The observed flash lasted about two seconds. The object was believed to be an asteroid, making it the first image of a meteorite hitting a planet. The find was heavily praised by NASA and his fellow astronomers, who were certain that after the 1994’s collision another would not be expected for several hundred years.

6. Emmanuel Conseil Discovers New Christmas Star in 2015

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On a Christmas day, an amateur astronomer Emmanuel Conseil discovered a new star or nova in the Triangulum Galaxy while using the Slooh online observatory. A nova is basically a gigantic nuclear explosion that occurs when a white dwarf star steals hydrogen from its stellar neighbor. When it gathers enough material, it causes a runaway nuclear fusion reaction, which blasts the material out into space. Conseil stated that the new star was not present the day before the Christmas, which only meant that the explosion happened at some point on Christmas Day, giving birth to a brand new Christmas star.

5. 42 Planets Discovered By Amateurs in 2012

Image credit: Nasa

A team of amateur astronomers has unravel the existence of 42 unknown planets, including a Jupiter-size planet that could actually be habitable, by exploring data from a NASA spacecraft. Forty volunteers with the crowdsourcing Planet Hunters project discovered the new planet candidates, which include nearly as much as 15 potentially habitable worlds and PH2 b, a Jupiter-sized planet that they confirmed to be in the habitable zone of its parent star.

Researchers suggested that the chunk of planets in the so-called Goldilocks zone around a star (refers to the ideal distance between a planet and a star, allowing the planet to feature both a breathable atmosphere and liquid water) is a habitable zone in which conditions are liquid water to exist on a planet’s surface and potentially support life, could mean there is a “traffic jam” of worlds where life could exist, project officials said.

4. Jupiter Impact Caught On Video As It Happened in 2016

It is not a hidden fact to space scientists and astronomers that the Earth’s big daddy Jupiter takes the most hits from comets and asteroids in almost regular intervals. In 2016, Jupiter again whacked by most probably an asteroid or a comet. The impact was recorded by two amateur astronomer, John McKeon from Ireland and Gerrit Kernbauer of Mödling, Austria. While it’s still too early to know the exact details of the Jupiter crash, NASA asteroid experts at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said there’s a greater chance that it was an asteroid, not a comet.

3. Quadruple Star System in 2012

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In 2012, an international team of amateur astronomers discovered a planet which revolves around four suns in pair of two– the first ever reported case of such a phenomenon. The planet, is located about 5,000 light years from Earth, and has been named PH1 in honour of Planet Hunters, a program led by Yale University that enlists volunteers to look for signs of new planets.

PH1 is orbiting two suns and, in turn, is orbited by an another distant pair of stars. Only six planets have been listed to orbit a binary system of two stars, but none of those orbit another pair. Astronomical data transmitted by the NASA’s Kepler spacecraft confirmed that the planet in concern is orbiting two pairs of double-star. Its orbiting around two suns has drawn comparisons from the media with the fictional planet ‘Tatooine’ from the Star Wars movies.

Read: 33 Breathtaking Pictures of OuterSpace You’ve Never Seen Before

2. Hanny Van Arkel’s Cosmic Ghost in 2007

Image credit: UniverseToday

Not so long ago, the term “amateur astronomer” conjured an image of stargazers just peering through their backyard telescopes. But today the situation is different, they are also likely to be analyzing reams of sophisticated data and imagery collected by observatories which are posted on Web sites. While studying images of galaxies on the Internet in August 2007, she discovered a strange object or phenomena in the night sky: a bright, gaseous mass with a gaping hole in its middle. Professional astronomers and researchers labeled her discovery a “cosmic ghost” and were also fascinated by the unique nature of it. A cosmic ghost is thought to be a punctured cloud of hot gas, which is illuminated by the “dying embers” of a nearby quasar. Her discovery was widely appreciated, particularly by other amateur astronomers.

1. Yellow Space balls in 2015

Read: 25+ Most Amazing Things Found In Space

During a detailed study of images taken from NASA’s Splitzer telescope in 2015, a group of amateur astronomers from Zooniverse project discovered what appeared to be an unusual “yellow balls”. After further analysis, researchers now believe they are the early stages of massive stars forming. NASA claimed that these yellow balls are the missing links. They represent a transition “between very young embryonic stars buried in dense, dusty clouds and slightly older, newborn stars blowing the bubbles.”