Searching for Supernovae: A More Personal Story

This is a chapter from Rev. Robert Evans' upcoming book "Searching for Supernovae".

The Early Years

My first introduction to anything astronomical occurred when I was about seven or eight years old. My father had been a Scout leader many years before he became a family man, and knew some of the brightest stars, the most obvious constellations visible from Sydney, and a little about the planets. He was nearly forty-eight years of age when I was born, and my mother was over ten years younger than he. He used to point out that the times of the rising and setting of the planets were published each day in the weather section of the "Sydney Morning Herald." In that way, we picked out Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. I remember him getting me up early one morning, and taking me out the front of our house riding on his shoulders, so that I could see Mercury, in the east, above the lights of the city. That would have been in the mid-1940s, when the city lights were not a problem. We lived then in the western suburb Concord West, where my brother and I had been born, and my parents had built their first home.

Later, he gave me an extremely simple book about the main constellations (I still have it), and he brought home a large, ancient atlas of the heavens from the stack of the Fisher Library at the University of Sydney. I cannot remember when it was published, but it would have been nearly a hundred years old. He worked for many years as a laboratory assistant in the Botany Department at the University, and had become an expert at the recognition of native plants which grew around Sydney and the Blue Mountains. This ancient atlas not only portrayed the sky, and named those stars which had names, but also revealed the mythological figures and animals associated with some of the constellations.

He had an old spy-glass, which had, in ancient history, been part of a pair of binoculars (I still have this, also). It was little better than naked eye, but helped to fuel my interest. My uncle had a nice small pair of binoculars, but my parents only allowed me to borrow and use them occasionally, in case anything bad happened to them. In this way, I learned some of the constellations, and brighter stars.

In my early teen years we moved from Concord West to Eastwood. It so happened that our house at Eastwood had a flat concrete laundry roof, which lent itself admirably to being an observatory. While I was at High School, my brother was studying to be an optometrist (he later became a general medical practitioner). He made a telescope for me out of a spectacle lens which had a focal length of about two feet. The rest of the telescope consisted of an old microscope eyepiece, rolls of paper held together by glue and an elastic band, and a cardboard tube in which the eyepiece part slid, so that focussing was possible. The telescope mounting consisted of a tennis ball pierced by a thin axle, and some pieces of Meccano, and the observer had to lie on his back, on the flat laundry roof in order to crawl under the eyepiece, when the telescope was pointed up into the air. So, I started with this simple two inch telescope, and magnification of about fifteen or twenty.

After I left school, at the end of 1954, I bought an old five and a half inch reflector, which consisted of an optical system in a tube, but with no mounting. It took me twelve months of trial and error to work out how to align the mirrors, and thus be able to use the telescope. During this frustrating time I bought a factory-made two inch refractor with eyepieces, and a copy of Norton's Star Atlas. Eventually, with the help of Norton, I aligned the mirrors, and learned to see various kinds of objects.

After a few years, I became interested in looking at galaxies, and in hunting for supernovae. With the five inch telescope I could pick out a small number of galaxies, as faint as into eleventh and twelfth magnitude. Because the telescope had no mounting, I had to sit on the laundry roof with the tube propped up against my knee, twist my head around at a sharp angle in order to look through the small finder, and then look through the main scope. Only low power could normally be used with any effect. It was difficult to maintain pointing accuracy through this gymnastic process with the introduction of an high-powered eyepiece, because the field of view became very small.

By the later 1950s, only fifty or sixty supernovae had ever been found, and very little was known about them. I slowly collected whatever literature about the subject that I could, and visited Sydney Observatory in order to copy out the positions, names and details about the brighter galaxies, from their copy of the Shapley-Ames Catalogue of Bright Galaxies. Photocopiers did not then exist.

At one stage, I found two pictures of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1300, published in two different books, both referring to original pictures from Palomar Observatory, but, in one case, there was a bright object appearing in one of the spiral arms which was not present in the other picture. I wrote to Dr. Fritz Zwicky at the California Institute of Technology to tell him about it. One of his assistants replied (Howard S. Gates), explaining that the two pictures were probably made from the same original, and that the difference between the two pictures was therefore probably due to a printing mistake. However, I was encouraged to keep on looking, and was sent a copy of Zwicky's article on supernovae (The Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories Reprint No. 300), with clues about what information would be needed if I ever found a supernova, and a few contact addresses (sadly all quite remote from where I lived, and all in the northern hemisphere).

The place where I worked for four years was one of Sydney's leading bookstores, which had a small astronomy section downstairs. A copy of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin's classic work "The Galactic Novae" appeared on the shelf, including a substantial chapter on supernovae. The book had only just been published, and the price was very high. Allowing for staff discount to which I was entitled, the cost representing more than half a week's wages for me. After wondering what I should do for some time, I eventually swallowed hard, and bought the book.

The publications by Zwicky and by Payne-Gaposchkin contained lists of the supernovae that had been found at that stage, which totalled little more than fifty. The magnitudes were included, as well. From this information it was not hard to realise that, at least some of these stars could have been seen visually from a good site with a telescope of twelve inches aperture, or even ten inches. I did realise that a five inch telescope would have been inadequate in most cases, and that a larger one would have to be got, eventually. But, a very few supernovae had got bright enough to be seen even with a five inch telescope. In any case, I was still at the stage of trying to find out where the galaxies were, and I was still learning how to find them in the sky.

At that time, ten inch or twelve inch telescopes were not common amongst amateurs, at least in Australia. I do not think they were common amongst amateur astronomers anywhere in the world. Most amateurs struggled to own a simple refractor, or a mounted six inch reflector. At that time, the biggest operational telescope in Australia had a thirty inch mirror, at Mount Stromlo Observatory. A 74 inch telescope was soon to be added.

During these years, I was a member of the astronomy club at Sydney Observatory, called the N.S.W. Branch of the British Astronomical Association. It was the only one which existed here at that time. So I got a bit of an insight into what research was then being done at that observatory, and met other amateurs who had their own telescopes, and were interested in various aspects of the subject.

Another publication which I secured was Gerard de Vaucouleurs "Survey of Bright Galaxies south of -35 degrees," which had been prepared with that 30 inch telescope around 1954 - 1956. It was published by the Mount Stromlo people, and available free of charge, at Government expense. This not only showed me where to find some of the southern galaxies, but provided descriptions of them, and photos of some of them. Photos of southern galaxies were hard to find. That made it very difficult to know what many of the galaxies should normally look like.

For quite some years I had to be content with the Norton Star Atlas. It did not have many galaxies marked in it. The sky map in "Teach Yourself Astronomy" was even less detailed. Eventually I got a copy of the "Skalnate Pleso" Atlas, which had many of the Shapley-Ames galaxies marked on it.

Most of my initial supernova hunting with the five inch telescope from the laundry roof was done from the middle of 1958 to early 1959. I dreamed of having a really dark sky site observatory, and explored maps of vacant and inaccessible mountain tops towards the west of New South Wales. I even leased one such mountain top for several years, before it began to sink in to my mind that such an enterprise was totally impractical, and I allowed the lease to lapse.

The Start of Training for the Ministry

During 1959 I lived for most of the year in the centre of Sydney, preparing to enter the Methodist ministry. Only on the few occasions when I was back at home was it possible to observe any galaxies.

In 1960, instead of being sent to the Seminary, I spent a year working in a circuit, or, as they are called in other denominations, a parish. This provided me with some income. It was not a great income at all. Nobody went into the ministry hoping for a high income. But, being a bachelor, and not having a driver's license, the income was more than I could easily spend. So, I had the chance to buy a larger telescope mirror. I contacted a man in the club at Sydney Observatory who made a few mirrors for people, to see if he had any for sale. The only one he had was a ten inch mirror which had been designed for a different type of telescope. He had made it for someone else, but the "someone else" had gone off without buying it. Its surface would be a little under-corrected, but he said it would be good enough for my purposes. I would have preferred a twelve inch mirror. But, as they say, "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." And I did not think he would take the trouble to make a larger one for me, as a special order. So, I bought the mirror, and a small secondary, paying him in four monthly instalments. It cost me about a month's wages.

I was not much of a mechanical type. The first tube I made was composed of three four-gallon oil drums with tops cut out of three of them, and bottoms cut out of two of them. But I could not fasten them together, or make the tube rigid. Then I went to the local works where they made corrugated iron tanks, and had these people make for me a tube of the right width and length for my mirror. Not being a mechanical type, making the rest of the telescope proved impossible for me.

From 1961 to 1965 I was in various stages of the studying process, and lived in parts of Sydney where observing was not much of a possibility. In 1964, Elaine and I were married, and the little flat in which we started married life was similarly in a bad location for observing, although it served us very well in other ways.

Early Circuit Appointments

From 1966 to 1968 we had our first appointment in a suburban circuit, which was also in a very bad location for observing. Before our first daughter was born, there was enough money from my stipend for me to buy the parts to make a reasonable mounting for the ten inch mirror and tube. Two of our girls were born at Parramatta during that time.

In 1969, we moved to a suburb of Newcastle. We lived near the northern end of Lake Macquarie in the township of Boolaroo. The back yard was a reasonable observing site, at least when the industrial fumes from the local Sulphide factory were not blowing in our direction. For two years I developed my observing programme, but other difficulties arose which made the supernova project less practical.

The Early Problems in Supernova Hunting

There were two main problems. Firstly, very little existed of decent photographs of many of these southern galaxies, to show what they should normally look like. When I became suspicious about some star, as to whether it was a new object, or not, in many cases there was nowhere to look for reference material. One could make drawings of the galaxy, but, every time I looked at a galaxy I seemed to see deeper into the scene, and see more and fainter stars, as I got increasingly used to the appearance of the galaxy. Any one of these might have been a supernova.

Secondly, when I thought that there was a suspicious looking star near a galaxy about which I was in doubt, there was nobody to whom I could turn for help. It is true that I could have asked for help from the few northern hemisphere observers. But, in most cases, they could not see the galaxies in question, and there was nobody else who would help quickly and reliably. To express it simply, there was no verification team to handle southern queries of this kind.

After several attempts at doing something about probable false alarms, the whole project had to be called into question. It was not going to be practical to search for supernovae visually, unless I made my own photographs of all the galaxies, so that I could prove that a discovery was real, and weed out all the false alarms.

1971 and 1972, therefore, saw the beginnings of an attempt to turn this ten inch telescope into a photographic set-up. An electric drive was purchased, and friends helped me develop a variable control device to modify the speed of the drive. Then a better guide scope had to be attached to the main telescope tube, and the whole lot had to be balanced so that it would track properly, and follow the stars across the sky.

This project, however, did not succeed. It was not a good enough piece of equipment. After many attempts, it could not be made to work accurately enough to take any reasonable photographs.

Our other two daughters were born while we lived near Newcastle, and came into the world in one of the maternity hospitals there. We moved to a country town at the end of 1972.

From 1973 to 1976 we lived in the town of Leeton, in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. The back yard was not a good observing location, because strong street lights were too close and too numerous. I made friends with an orchardist who lived some miles out of town. His father had built a telescope some years earlier, so he was quite sympathetic to having occasional night visits, and having an odd structure amongst his trees to house my telescope. This was really an ideal observing site, the best I have ever had, as no lights were visible for more than a mile, and I had a 360 degree flat horizon. The number of fine nights was also a good deal greater than happened on the coastal strip. It is sad that not much was able to be done with it, because of the stalemate situation which had engulfed my whole supernova enterprise, as I have described.

1980 Onward

In 1977 we moved from Leeton to a little town on the north coast of New South Wales called Maclean. I used the back yard of the church, in the first instance, in order to escape the influence of street lights, and get going at last with photography. The mounting for the telescope was set in concrete, but no other progress was made for a year or two.

In 1979, the news appeared in copies of "Sky and Telescope" that Gus Johnson, an American amateur living in the mountains of Maryland, had found a bright supernova in the galaxy NGC 4321, otherwise known as Messier 100, using an eight inch reflector.

With this prompting, I reviewed the telescope mounting out in the church yard, and found that the electric motor so necessary for photography had become too dangerous to use. Ants had come to live inside the casing of the little clock motor, and when I cleaned it out, I got an electric shock through it (240 volts). Thankfully I had on thick rubber soled shoes at the time, and the shock did me no harm. Now I had no ability to take photos through the telescope, and could not afford to buy anything to improve the situation. So I was forced to revert to visual observing, pure and simple, with no backup from photographs of my own.

The nearest astronomy club to Maclean was in Brisbane, Queensland, which was about two hundred miles away. I made enquiries to see if anyone connected with the club could help me in any way. I discovered that Gregg Thompson was making some charts of the brightest galaxies to provide a basis for supernova hunting. Another club member, Arthur Page, who was in charge of the variable star section, was helping in this project, as were two people who worked at Siding Spring Observatory (Steven Lee and Tom Cragg).

Gregg provided me with preliminary copies of these charts. Only a few existed, compared with the set which eventually was published, and they were still in an early stage of development.

Also, I was advised to talk to Tom Cragg, the chief night assistant at the Anglo-Australian Telescope, who would give me access to the newly published southern Schmidt photographic surveys, and allow me to make my own 35mm slides of galaxies from these fields.

During 1980, therefore, I started using these preliminary charts, and started making my first efforts at copying galaxy fields from the Schmidt surveys. Naturally, not all of the galaxies that I observed were covered in this way with good resource materials, so I had to use the method of making sketch drawings of the galaxies as well, until I got better material about that galaxy. The drawings also helped me to remember what the galaxy looked like.

Linked to this was the drive to observe a much greater number of galaxies, and thus increase my chances of making a discovery.

My records indicate that during the month of May, 1980, I observed 435 different galaxies, plus 65 repeats, totalling 500 observations of various galaxies. This was a simple indication of how many galaxies I could observe at that stage of proceedings.

One result of the long, drawn-out and frustrating efforts at searching for supernovae, over a decade, and longer, was that I had introduced myself to a wide range of galaxies marked on the "Skalnate Pleso" Atlas, from the Shapley-Ames Catalogue. But this list of different galaxies was only the beginning. Especially over the next two or three years, the list was steadily increased, as the number of 35mm slides in my resource files expanded, and as Gregg Thompson produced a wider range of charts of galaxies which were in due course to be included in his collection of Supernova Search Charts. Within a few years, the range of galaxies that I observed stretched over a thousand, and kept on growing.

But the other factor was not only to observe as many of them as possible, but also to do it as regularly as possible. 1980 was the first year when a serious attempt was made to achieve both aspects of this programme. As a result, some successes began to occur.

My First Discoveries

The first supernova that I actually saw was SN 1980N in the galaxy NGC 1316, which appeared some distance east of the main body of the galaxy. My records show that I observed this galaxy five times in November, 1980, including on the 26th (with my ten inch telescope at home in Maclean), and on the 28th, with a friend's long-focussed twelve inch telescope, at the seaside town of Iluka. I remember that on the 28th I thought the star pattern around the galaxy looked a bit strange, but, with all my lack of experience, it was not enough to make any alarm bells ring in my head.

The first two weeks in December were spent on holidays in Sydney with no telescope, and with a full moon in the sky. A few days after returning to Maclean, I had a fine night. I observed NGC 1316, and immediately recognised the new star, about two minutes of arc east of the galaxy. Tom Cragg quickly verified my observation visually with his own telescope, but then found out that an I.A.U telegram had just been issued announcing the discovery of the supernova by Jose Maza's team of Chilean astronomers. As the announcement had already been made, there was no point in trying to claim a part in the discovery. But, so far as I was concerned, personally, it was an actual independent discovery, as I did not know about the existence of the supernova beforehand.

The rest of the story was pieced together slowly. The Chilean astronomers had photographed the galaxy late in November, and the supernova had recorded itself on their picture, close to maximum light. But the astronomers did not examine their picture. Two weeks later they took another patrol photograph, examined it, and found the supernova. This find prompted them to look at the earlier picture. That was why their discovery was not announced until mid-December.

From the Chilean point of view, they could have found the supernova at least two weeks earlier, if they had looked at their late November picture promptly. This was a continual difficulty in all the photographic searches for many years. It was overcome in visual searches, provided the observer knew the normal appearance of each galaxy well enough to recognise the new star straight away - which clearly did not happen for me on either of those November evenings. However, it did happen for me often enough, as the years passed. Even automatic searches do not always avoid this problem, although they have a good record, if the supernova is bright enough.

Despite the disappointment in missing out on an officially recognised discovery, the whole episode showed that the system would work, and it was a good preparatory experience for the years ahead.

The first officially recognised discoveries occurred in February and March in 1981. Our family went out to one of the local beaches for February and March for my first lot of long-service leave, while another minister relieved me of the parish responsibilities. The house in which we stayed belonged to one of the parishioners, and had an absolute ocean beach frontage. Our four daughters went to their usual school in the local Brooms Head bus. They normally walked to school from the church residence.

I set up the telescope on the grass beside the house at the beach, and observed my galaxies. I observed NGC 1532 early in February, and had a strange feeling about its appearance, but not enough to make the alarm bells ring. For three weeks I could not observe anything, because of foul weather, which was not all that uncommon on beach fronts in northern New South Wales at that time of the year.

The next fine night, February 24th, I observed this galaxy again, and noticed a new star in a location which implied it would have been on top of one of the spiral arms. I had a preliminary version of Gregg's chart of this galaxy, but no photograph of it. We had no phone at the holiday house, so I rang Tom Cragg from the public phone at the local shop. Tom observed this new star, and knew that nothing had been announced about it. He observed it for several nights, but was not game enough to report it. He was frightened that reporting a false alarm would give our project a bad name. Tom also had the A.A.O. Schmidt surveys to consult, and could see that no star was visible in that location on these photographs. After a few days, one of the professional astronomers made some photometric measurements of the new star, showing that it did not look like a normal star. It was then that Tom reported the discovery to the Central Bureau, through the A.A.V.S.O. offices in Boston. The telegram announcing the discovery was dated 5th March. Confirmation also came from the Chilean astronomers at Cerro Calan. Details of the photometry appeared a few days later in the I.A.U. Circulars, as did spectral observations made by Robert Kirschner, who was then observing at Kitt Peak Observatory. So, this became my first official discovery, and was dubbed SN 1981A.

A photographic plate of this supernova was taken by Ken Russell with the U. K. Schmidt, which provided the exact position of the supernova, needed for the I.A.U. Circular. I appreciated being given a print from this plate for a permanent record of the discovery, apart from a photo taken by Brisbane amateur Peter Anderson.

On March 1st, I saw another questionable star next to the galaxy NGC 4536 in Virgo. Again, I had a preliminary version of Gregg's chart of that galaxy, but no photographs of it. On this chart, because the galaxy was just north of the equator, the directions (north, south, east, west.) were opposite to the way they were portrayed on southern charts - a factor that I was not yet accustomed to. There was a faint star on the chart near the galaxy. Which side of the galaxy was it on? The new star I could see was not really faint at all. I chewed over the problem for an hour. Again, lack of experience came against me. It is better for one's ego to provide a kind and sympathetic explanation, instead of admitting to being stupid. I had already experienced quite a few false alarms, one way and another, and did not want to have another. I decided that the bright star near the galaxy was probably the same star as the faint one on the chart.

About a week later, I drove up to Tom Cragg's place, on Siding Spring Mountain, to get more 35mm photos of galaxies from the Schmidt surveys at the Anglo-Australian Observatory. It was there that I was told about a new bright supernova in NGC 4536, which had been found by a Russian professional astronomer on March 2nd. It was known as SN 1981B. I was angry and very frustrated.

After a night or two at Tom's place, we were observing from his driveway. He was using his twelve inch monster, and I had my shorter-focussed ten inch, which was easily portable in a car. We observed NGC 1532, and Tom estimated the brightness of SN 1981A. I knew that SN 1980N had faded below what I could see with the ten inch telescope, but the attractive power on me of NGC 1316 was very strong. Lo and behold, another new star was present! This one was much closer to the main body of the galaxy, just a little south of it. Tom's immediate reaction to my exclamation was that two supernovae so close together in the one galaxy was impossible, but, no sooner had this thought arisen in his mind, than he knew it could happen, and it had indeed happened a few times already, within the very short recorded history of supernovae.

We checked this new star against Gregg's chart. It was not in the same position as any of the stars on the chart. It was not moving, so it was not an asteroid. Tom rang fellow-employee at the Observatory, Steven Lee, who made his own observation, with a smaller telescope. He replied that he thought the new star was the same as one of the faint ones on the chart. However, Tom knew this was not the case, as, in his telescope, he could see all the stars on the chart, and the supernova as well.

So, on this occasion, we were reporting our discovery to Janet Mattei, at the A.A.V.S.O., within two hours of first seeing the new supernova. This provided the first example of a visual discovery which was verified, and reported to the Central Bureau, very quickly after being found. Other examples were soon to follow. It was also the first example of a type 1 supernova found visually by an amateur, and also found before maximum light. It became known as SN 1981D.

Thus the excitement of the second discovery in NGC 1316 helped to overcome some of the disappointment about the supernova in NGC 4536.

Again, we slowly learned another story about Chilean astronomy, involving this supernova. They had been carefully taking pictures of their supernova, SN 1980N, to monitor its decline in brightness, and using several colour filter combinations. They had taken pictures on March 1, 2, 3 and 4. But they had not looked at their pictures, or they might have seen the rise of the new supernova.

Perhaps the Central Bureau had checked with the Chileans, to get better verification?

With the announcement of the visual discovery came the news that they had looked at their pictures, and reported their record of the rise of SN 1981D. On March 1st it was magnitude 20.5. On March 2nd, it was magnitude 18. On March 3, it was magnitude 15.5. And on March 4, it was magnitude 15.0. We had found on March 10 (local time) at about magnitude 12.6.

Observers using the U.K.Schmidt telescope on Siding Spring Mountain took a short-exposure plate of the field around NGC 1316, showing both supernovae, and many of the other Fornax galaxies. The plate spent many years at Mount Stromlo, but now, I have this plate here at home.

On my way home from Tom's place on Siding Spring Mountain back to the north coast, I dropped in at the home of a friend whose husband had recently died. She lived outside the town of Inverell on a small farm. Having the ten inch telescope with me, I showed her two of the three supernovae, both at twelfth magnitude, and not hard to see at all. Her understanding of visual observing was quite small, and she could not describe where anything was located in the sky. She was like many others in that respect. In turn, she had a friend who was interested in astronomy. Some days later she told this friend that she had seen two supernovae. The friend did not believe her, and asked where they were. My friend's best effort at describing where she had seen these two unusual events was to say that they were "over the piggery."

Good photometry was possible for SN 1981D because of the long series of photos of this galaxy taken at Cerro Calan, and also because colour measurements were made of both of the NGC 1316 supernovae in New Zealand.


During this year the range of galaxies that I was bringing under surveillance increased steadily, and the regularity with which they were monitored was maintained. During 1982, there were no supernovae brighter than magnitude fourteen and a half, visible from my part of the world. I did not see a supernova at all for twenty five months. This is the other side of the coin from having three twelfth or thirteenth magnitude supernovae in the sky at the same time, in February and March of 1981, which was not a common coincidence of events.

Feelings, such as premonitions, can be very strange things. Perhaps we only remember the premonitions which relate to events which later become meaningful. I had a premonition that a supernova would appear in NGC 1187. It prompted me to get out of bed at two o'clock in the morning, after the moon had set, and stare at the galaxy for an hour, without being able to recognise any new detail.

A supernova was found in this galaxy, in the mid-fourteenth magnitude about two weeks later, soon after the full moon. The weather had stopped me from seeing the galaxy again in that period, and I never saw the supernova at all. Also, the limiting magnitude which I could see with the ten inch telescope varied somewhat, depending upon the seeing conditions. At times I could see stars in the top part of fifteenth magnitude. Normally I considered that I could see magnitude 15.0 from the backyard in Maclean. But, no doubt it varies more than that.

Ever since I started using the ten inch telescope I had problems of one kind and another with the secondary mirror. By 1981, the secondary setup was much better than it had been years before, but it was still not really good. All through 1981 and 1982 the secondary was actually a little too small, and, as a result, it did not collect all the light from the main mirror. In effect, I had an eight inch, or nine inch telescope, with a ten inch mirror. In theory, the second mirror is supposed to be as small as possible. But the tube was not as rigid as it should have been. Alignment changed a little as the telescope moved around, and the focus also changed slightly with each major movement. Around the end of 1982, I had the main mirror re-figured to be a proper parabola instead of being under-corrected, as it was when I had bought it, and I also bought a larger than necessary secondary mirror. These new features improved the telescope a little, and helped me to see objects which were slightly fainter.


The first supernova that came my way in 1983 was SN 1983G, which appeared in the peculiar galaxy NGC 4753 in Virgo. Kiyomi Okazaki was actually the first person to realise that the supernova was there, because it showed up on a photograph that he took with his ten inch Schmidt telescope on April 4th. He took another picture on April 5th, which also showed the star at about magnitude 13.0. The astronomer at Tokyo Astronomical Observatory apparently passed the message on to the Central Bureau, without having any independent observations which would confirm Okazaki's discovery. So, Dr. Brian Marsden had to sit on the report until news of further confirmatory observations came to hand.

I had observed other Virgo galaxies on the previous two nights, but did not look at NGC 4753 until April 6th, when I saw the supernova. Gregg Thompson provided visual confirmation immediately, and a telegram to the Central Bureau not only got our names on to the telegram announcing the discovery, but provided Okazaki with the confirmatory support which had not been provided by the professionals in Japan. However, accurate positions were provided from Tokyo, based upon Okazaki's photo, and another came from R. W. Argyle, at Royal Greenwich Observatory, based upon a photo which had been taken at Herstmonceaux.

It was a type 1 supernova, which had been found a little before, or around maximum light On this occasion, a most interesting photograph of this supernova was taken by Dr. David Haynes, using the 3.9 metre Anglo-Australian Telescope.

An amateur friend who took photographs of all of my early discoveries, and of many other objects about which I had queries, was Peter Anderson of The Gap, a suburb of Brisbane. He was one of the leaders of the Astronomical Association of Queensland. At that time, everyone in the Brisbane group who were working to build up support for the supernova search project belonged to that club. Indeed, at that time, it was the only amateur club in Brisbane. Peter's pictures were all short exposures taken with Tri-X film, with his 16 inch telescope. Obviously his pictures did not compare in quality with the other pictures taken at Siding Spring with the professional telescopes, but, at least Peter's photos provided a more reliable source of supply. In later years, a few others were photographed taken by David Malin with the Anglo-Australian Telescope, and some others with the U. K. Schmidt by staff members, but not all of my discoveries were recorded in this way. Professional telescopes are used for all kinds of observing programmes, and may not be available when a supernova happens to be at maximum light.

My second supernova discovery for 1983 was SN 1983N, which appeared in the famous southern galaxy NGC 5236 (Messier 83.) This discovery has been described in some detail in an earlier section of this book, and so not everything will be repeated here.

I had just missed out on the discovery of a supernova in NGC 4699. I had looked at the galaxy one evening, without seeing anything, and looked again three weeks later, and found the supernova. But, when I rang up Gregg Thompson to inform him of this, I found that this supernova had already been found, actually on the night three weeks earlier when I had looked. On that night the supernova had been rising in brightness and was below the edge of visibility in my telescope. The grapevine had not worked, and so I did not know about it for those three weeks. After church, one Sunday evening early in July, I took the telescope out into the yard, with the insane feeling that I would find a supernova or bust. Going to bed might have been dangerous after such a bold feeling, but I looked through the main Virgo galaxies for an hour, finding nothing, and then looked at M83 as a last hope before going to bed. There, at magnitude 13, was a new star.

I rang Tom Cragg, but nothing could be done at Siding Spring because of the weather. But Brisbane weather was more accommodating. Gregg Thompson made a visual observation, and reported the discovery to the Central Bureau by telegram. Clearly, Dan Green wanted better evidence. After all, why had not there been any news from Siding Spring? (We had not mentioned to him about the problem with the weather.) Dan's response was to telegram all of the larger southern observatories and to ask for confirmation. With the widespread lack of interest in supernovae amongst many professional astronomers in those days, a telegram like that probably produced the quickest and widest results. Janet Mattei, however, did manage to get some visual confirmation from Jan Hers, one of the A.A.V.S.O. observers in South Africa.

The next night at Siding Spring was better, but extremely cold. Tom had a visitor that night. Glenn Dawes was staying briefly. Their eyebrows froze to the eyepiece of Tom's telescope as they looked at the supernova. Reports about spectra came in from Anglo-Australian Telescope observers, and from the European Southern Observatory. And Tom reported that the supernova was half a magnitude brighter than it had been the previous night. A few days later came reports about observations made through the International Ultraviolet Explorer satellite. Soon other reports came in about infra-red observations from the ground and from IRAS, more from the I.U.E., and of attempts to observe the supernova at X-ray wavelengths. All this time, the star was slowly increasing in brightness. Observations with the Very Large Array radio telescope have been described earlier.

Although observations were hard to make when the galaxy went behind the sun, the supernova was visible in my telescope right through until the beginning of January.

Various photographs of this supernova were taken. The best one was a black and white photo taken by David Malin with the Anglo-Australian Telescope.

The third discovery in 1983 was SN 1983S, which appeared in the galaxy NGC 1448. On October 6th, for some reason I did not simply look at this galaxy in a quick, cursory way, but looked long and hard at it for half a minute, and then I began to see the new star just on the eastern side of the nucleus. Visually, it was hard to tell whether the object was slightly north or south by a tiny fraction, bit it was definitely about thirty seconds of arc east, and near the limit of what I could see. I estimated its brightness at magnitude 14.5.

I contacted both Tom Cragg and Gregg Thompson, who observed it, and after conferring with them, I rang the Central Bureau and reported my discovery directly. Gregg would normally have sent a telegram, encoded in the usual way. But, if I remember correctly, there was some reason why he was not able to send the telegram that night.

Soon, spectral observations were reported by Robert Kirschner from Kitt Peak, revealing that it was another type 2 supernova. In order to observe this galaxy at Kitt Peak, the four metre telescope had to be tipped over almost until it pointed at the horizon, it was so far south from there. Kirschner said they had to observe through 4.4 air masses, or 4.4 times the thickness of atmosphere than happens overhead. Other spectra were reported from the European Southern Observatory.

My First Astronomy Trip Overseas

The American Association of Variable Star Observers presents an attractive plaque award to everybody who discovers a nova or a supernova visually. If more than one person figured in the discovery, an award would only be given to the first person, if it was applicable. Dr. Janet Mattei, who has been leading the A.A.V.S.O. for many years, invited me across to receive my award at their AGM, early in November, 1983. At the time of the invitation, only three of my discoveries qualified for an award. The discovery in NGC 4753 did not qualify for an award because Okazaki had found the supernova before I did. The invitation included giving a talk on my astronomy work.

This was not my first overseas trip, but was the first one made for astronomical reasons. Nine years earlier (1974), while we were living at Leeton, a couple in the church had very generously paid for my fare and costs to a Charismatic Convention in Los Angeles. That, by itself, was a great experience in many ways. I also used this occasion to visit six of the American National Parks, and to collect more photocopies and book materials on evangelical revival movements - a subject in which I had then been deeply interested for over two decades, and about which (twenty five years later again) I have now written several books. The visit to Los Angeles included a brief visit to the home of Dr. J. Edwin Orr, who was the world authority on such subjects. Seeing that I was going to visit Yosemite, driving a rented car, Dr. Orr referred me to Richard Owen Roberts, who, with his wife and family, was then living in Fresno. Roberts was a second-hand book dealer, who specialised in this subject, and who was compiling major bibliographies on revival literature. So, it was not an astronomical trip. The reader may remember that, in 1974, I was thoroughly stymied in my efforts to search for supernovae, and so I did not have a consuming reason to use that first trip for an astronomical purpose.

In 1983, the family decided that I should try to accept Janet Mattei's invitation. I assembled what financial resources I could, and Janet arranged for me to give a few talks to various astronomy clubs, for which I might get a bit of financial help in paying my expenses. I was also made welcome as a guest in a number of homes, with real American generosity, far more than I deserved.

This trip provided me with another opportunity to look for more materials, and to make more contacts, in my interest about evangelical revival movements. By that time, the Roberts family was living in Wheaton, Illinois, with the children having left home, and I visited the Orr's again in Los Angeles. The A.A.V.S.O. meeting was held on Nantucket Island.

The A.A.V.S.O award that was to be presented to me had been made with three discoveries inscribed upon it. However, a fourth (in NGC 1448) had been made just a few weeks before the presentation. There was no time to make a new award, so a little attachment was made to hang under the award upon which the fourth discovery was listed. In the end, five more attachments were made, for five of the six discoveries I made before the end of 1985. (The discovery of SN 1984E did not qualify me for an award for the same kind of reason as SN 1983G.) After that, the policy was adopted not to make any more attachments, but to present a proper award for every future discovery that fitted the general rules.

In this way I met many active American observers, spent a day at Disney World, visited the Johnson Space Centre at Houston, met an astronaut, spoke at the Planetarium in Chicago, addressed several clubs, including the Houston Astronomical Society, the Austin Astronomical Society, and the Orange County Astronomers. I also visited Stamford Observatory in Connecticut, and spent a night at the home of long-standing A.A.V.S.O. Treasurer, Clinton B. Ford.

While I was in Austin, staying with our friends, Glenn and Dot Roark, I met James Bryan, co-author with Gregg Thompson of the Supernova Charts. At the University of Texas I met Gerard de Vaucouleurs, Harold Corwin and Craig Wheeler. As a result, over the next few years, I would contact the Texas astronomers directly about any supernovae that I found, instead of them waiting until they got news through the Central Bureau. This played an interesting role several times in the future.

While I was in Los Angeles, staying as guest of Father Ronald Royer in the Catholic Presbytery in Lakewood, he arranged a Sunday morning visit for me to Palomar Observatory, driven by one of the parish young men. Robert Thicksten, the superintendent on the mountain, showed me around. It was great to get a special look over the giant Hale telescope, and put my head inside the 48 inch Schmidt. This contact with Thicksten led to a number of further contacts over the next few years, which produced some important results for me.

Father Royer also took me out to the 18 inch telescope on Mount Peltier, near Wrightwood, in the mountains north-east of Los Angeles. It was a strange feeling driving across the famous Saint Andrews fault, to visit Wrightwood. Clint. Ford was using the telescope, and was staying in the house in Wrightwood which he had bought as a base when observing with this telescope. Royer took many terrific pictures with this telescope, including some of my supernovae. His ability to use the telescope was, of course, heavily affected by his parish duties.

After I arrived back home in Maclean, only a few weeks passed before a supernova appeared in NGC 1365. Southern observers know NGC 1365 as the famous barred spiral galaxy in the constellation of Fornax. In amateur telescopes, it is one of the easiest galaxies in which to see spiral structure. Late in November (25th) I saw a new star just in front of the leading edge of the bar, near its western end. Again I rang Tom Cragg, who looked at the galaxy with his own 12 inch telescope, and then went up to the Anglo-Australian Telescope to discuss with the astronomers whether it might be observed by them. A low dispersion spectrograph was on the telescope that night. Dr. Michael Dopita was in charge, with a student, and the objects he wanted to observe near the Large Magellanic Cloud were affected by cloud. So they pointed the big telescope at the new supernova, producing a spectrum which was not like any they had seen before. It appeared to them to be rather like a type 2 supernova, probably still rising in brightness. Its position was read off the control panel of the telescope. The discovery telegram was issued by the Central Bureau that same day. The supernova was dubbed SN 1983V.

Two days later, Professor P. O. Lindblad was studying this galaxy with one of the larger telescopes at the European Southern Observatory. During his observing run he had stayed on the mountain, and had not been down to the observatory base township of La Silla. So he had not heard about the prior discovery of the supernova.

As he observed NGC 1365, he saw the supernova, and went out looking for another astronomer to verify it for him, and to do some photometry on it. He got quite excited about his discovery, and was a little disappointed, I think, when he got back to the base, to find that the supernova had already been found in Australia, and had been announced. However, it was a clean independent discovery on his part, and was a very interesting experience.

This supernova was observed in a few other places, but not extensively, for example, at McDonald Observatory in Texas, and at the South African Astronomical Observatory. A year or so later, when research on the various sub-types of the "peculiar type one" supernovae was at its height, the spectra of this supernova were re-analysed. It was realised that this supernova was one of the peculiar type ones also, and not type two, as Mike Dopita had thought. This also is why the spectrum seemed so strange to him. Eventually it was listed as a type 1c, and not type 1b. SN 1983N became the main example of type 1b. This was because helium lines were pronounced in type 1c, but did not appear in type 1b or type 1a.

This supernova was photographed for me by two amateurs, Peter Anderson in Brisbane, and Father Ronald Royer in California. It was also photographed by Betsy Green with the 40 inch telescope at Siding Spring Observatory.


This year began with the appearance of a very bright supernova in NGC 4419, SN 1984A, in the constellation of Coma Berenices. It was found by the Russian astronomer Kimeridze, and by Dr. Rosino at Asiago.

In March, our family had another month of long service leave at Brooms Head, with another minister relieving me of my parish duties. It did no good for regular observing, as the whole month was lost to bad weather. One day I packed up the ten inch telescope into our car, and drove across the mountains into the area near Inverell and Warialda, picking an observing site on a side road. In ten hours of darkness I observed 570 galaxies, and returned home the next day. No supernovae were visible. This became my record for what I could see in a night, although it could have been broken in later years, if I had tried.

A few days after returning home from the month of leave, however, a supernova was spotted in NGC 3169, on March 29th. Tom Cragg confirmed my observation with his 12 inch telescope, and reported it to Elizabeth Waagen at the A.A.V.S.O. offices in Boston, who, in turn passed it on to the Central Bureau. These were the details which appeared on the telegram which announced the discovery. The supernova was eventually called SN 1984E.

However, three days earlier, Nataliya Metlova, of the Sternberg Crimean Station, had seen the supernova, as had Kiyomi Okazaki of Japan, also. Cablegrams reporting their observations arrived at the Central Bureau after the telegram was issued, but before the I.A.U. Circular was published.

Dr. Michael Dopita was using the Anglo-Australian Telescope again when this supernova was found.. After observing the supernova, Tom Cragg went up to the Observatory to see him. The spectrograph revealed an enormous emission spike at the hydrogen alpha line, another factor which had not been seen before. Mick Dopita and his two collaborators prepared a letter to the Astrophysical Journal about this feature, explaining that a "superwind" had been produced by the star, just before the explosion. My name was added as the fourth author. This became the first time my name appeared as part-author in a professional journal.

Quick contact with Professor Craig Wheeler at the University of Texas led to astronomer Martin Gaskell making observations of this supernova with the 107 inch telescope at McDonald Observatory. He also found the big hydrogen spike, and reported about it in the I.A.U. Circulars. Here, the spike was stated to be expanding at only 360 kilometres per second, as opposed to the much more rapid expansion of the supernova material. I had interesting correspondence from Martin, as time went by, in which he recounted how he had run a Bible study group at McDonald Observatory during his period of observing there.

In the following few years, he pursued his studies of this supernova. Spectra taken about five weeks after the discovery showed that the rapidly expanding shell of the supernova had overtaken and destroyed the slowly expanding material which had shown up as the original hydrogen spike. In due course, he found a photograph of NGC 3169 which had been taken in December, 1981, and which showed a point source at the location where the supernova was to appear in 1984. This point source was not visible in other previous photographs. So, apparently the ejection of material from the star, which created the more slowly expanding "superwind," had taken place just over two years before the star exploded as the supernova 1984E. It should be noted that the supernova appeared on the outer edges of NGC 3169, and was not superimposed upon any bright portions of the galaxy. Therefore it was possible to see a very faint point source of hydrogen light in 1981 at the location of the supernova, against a dark background. If the background had been brighter, the point source of the "superwind" would not have been seen in the 1981 picture.

I did not see another supernova until July and August, when three supernovae were found in forty-two days. But they are not listed officially in the chronological order in which they appeared. And I will explain why.

In those days in 1984, the designation of the supernova (e.g. 1984E) was not issued immediately after the supernova was found and confirmed, as it is today, but might be issued some days or weeks later. In 1983, a strange result of this occurred with my discovery of SN 1983N in M83. A group of professional astronomers led by Dr. E. B. Jenkins made observations with the Anglo-Australian Telescope on lines in the spectrum of the supernova which related to gas clouds in between M83 and the Milky Way. The title of their paper could not refer to the proper name of the supernova - SN 1983N - because the designation had not yet been issued when they produced their research paper. So their paper was entitled "Interstellar Absorption Lines in the Spectrum of Supernova Evans in M83. (NGC 5236.)"

Anyway, for the above reason SN 1984N was discovered before SN 1984J or SN 1984L.

1984 was the last year that our family spent on the north coast of New South Wales, in Maclean. Because Maclean was a small country town the sky was black at night, and good for stargazing. The backyard observing site at the Uniting Church residence was very close to a street light, just a few metres away, but I hid from the light behind spreading frangipanni trees. Sometimes I simply used the shadow of the light post for protection. Apart from having to dress up with thick clothes in mid-summer, in order to avoid being eaten by mosquitoes, the backyard was a good, dark observing site. The weather pattern provided an average of about twenty-five percent or thirty percent of night-time when the sky was clear of clouds, which is fairly normal for the east coast of Australia. The west of New South Wales, at places like Coonabarabran, was much better - about fifty percent or more.

July, 1984, had prolonged bad weather. Our third daughter joined a local hockey team, but there was so much rain, and the low-lying hockey pitch was flooded or boggy for so much of the time, that she never got a game for the whole season.

July 20 was the first fine night for a while, and the weather forecast was such that it would probably be the only fine night for a while. So I only had one night to observe. It was about five days after the full moon, and I knew the bright moon would rise about 10 pm. Being mid-winter, it got dark by 6 pm, and I started frantically going through as many galaxies as I could in the time available. Coma, Virgo north south and west, Centaurus, Pavo, Indus, Gruz. When I finally wrote out the list of galaxy observations, I had examined 337 galaxies in the four hours, and then found a supernova in the 338th, which was NGC 7184 in Aquarius.

I rang Tom Cragg quickly, as the moon was rising. He observed the galaxy, and confirmed the existence of the new object.

I rang the A.A.V.S.O. offices in Boston to report my discovery, and Elizabeth Waagen passed on the message to the Central Bureau. (A telegram was promptly issued announcing the discovery.) I also rang the observer in charge of the U.K.Schmidt, and the astronomer made a short exposure with a blue plate, showing the galaxy and supernova. I should have asked for a red plate, which would have survived the bright moonlight better than a blue one. The blue plate was a mess, but it did show the needed details.

My comments so far may have created the idea that there were, in those years, a wide range of astronomers who were both willing and able to observe new supernovae. But, sadly, this was not true. Amongst the professional astronomers, only a small number were interested in such things, and few of them had observing time on a suitable telescope with suitable equipment at the time of discovery. Naturally, nobody knew when a supernova was going to be found, and follow up observations could not be arranged in advance. The allocation of observing time on large telescopes was based upon different principles entirely, which often made the following up of discoveries very difficult.

When this supernova was found on July 20, almost nothing happened to follow it up. I was well aware of the problems in following up a discovery, and my wife often wondered why, in those years, I took a lot of trouble and expense to chase up professional and amateur astronomers around the world in this regard. It had a bad effect on the phone bill.

I rang Robert Thicksten at Palomar Observatory. He managed to secure the cooperation of astronomer Dr. Bev. Oke, who made a partial (blue) spectrum of the supernova using the 200 inch Hale telescope. Tom Cragg said that one other spectrum was made at the Anglo-Australian Observatory on July 31st, although I never saw a copy of it. Both of these spectra seemed to show that the star was a heavily obscured supernova, generally of type 1. No other spectral observations were made of it. Robert also made an excellent photograph of the supernova with the Palomar 60 inch telescope. Amateur friends, Peter Anderson and Father Royer, also took photographs.

Because of the lack of follow up observations, nothing more about this supernova appeared in the I.A.U. Circulars until the end of September. Then Dr. Jeremy Tatum of the University of Victoria (Canada) pointed out in an I.A.U.Circular that there was a much fainter foreground star at the position of the alleged supernova in NGC 7184, and perhaps I had seen a change of brightness in this star, and that therefore it was not a supernova.

The next Circular, issued on October 1st, contained a long complaint from Dr. Brian Marsden, Director of the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams, taking professional astronomers generally to task for not providing his office with good follow up material on transient phenomena such as this alleged supernova. It was not the first time he had spoken in this way.

By that time I had copies of the three photographs mentioned above, and also a copy of a Survey photograph showing that the alleged supernova was not normally present at all, as well as a copy of Dr. Oke's spectrum. I sent copies of the pictures to Dr. Marsden, and to Jeremy Tatum.

So far as the I.A.U. Circulars were concerned, the Marsden outburst produced a response from two sources at least. Guy Hurst, the English amateur astronomy leader, reported that three photographs existed, taken by Andrew Young of Burwash. Peter Birtwhistle had measured the position of the supernova from these pictures, providing also the offsets of the supernova from the nucleus of the galaxy, and from Tatum's star, which was 1.5 seconds west and 12.2 seconds north of the supernova. Three magnitude estimates were also provided. Also, Dr. Ann Savage (U.K.Schmidt astronomer) was then working at the Royal Observatory at Edinburgh, where the archive of U.K.Schmidt plates is kept. The blue plate which had been taken for me when the supernova was found had arrived in Edinburgh by that time. She provided an exact position for the supernova, plus confirmation that it was not the same object as Tatum's star.

So this supernova did not get its designation until the middle of September, as SN 1984N, although 1984J, 1984K, 1984L and 1984M appeared after it.

Three Supernovae in 42 Days

It was cloudy for a week at Maclean after the discovery of what afterwards became known as SN 1984N in the galaxy NGC 7184.

A week and a few hours later, early in the morning of July 28th (local time) I found a new star somewhere in the middle of the galaxy NGC 1559. This galaxy normally has a bright foreground star of magnitude 13.5 on its south-west corner. This night there were two stars about the same brightness. With my ten inch telescope, it was not possible to see the nucleus of the galaxy, so estimating its offset from the nucleus required some guesswork. Nevertheless, I made a rough estimate (25" west, 10" south).

The weather was against us, in both Brisbane and Coonabarabran, so I rang my South African A.A.V.S.O. friend Danie Overbeek, to see if he could verify my discovery. Danie lived in a suburb of Johannesburg, so suffered from light pollution. He had a cassegrain telescope, not quite so good for galaxy work, and with approaching older age, the sensitivity of his eyesight was not as good as it used to be. He observed the galaxy, and said he could see the two stars I had referred to, but not any more detail. Also, he did not have any reference chart or photo of the galaxy.

The next morning, Gregg Thompson in Brisbane was able to observe it, but measured an offset from the nucleus that was quite different from what I had said (50" west, 5" north.). His telescope was a little smaller than mine (an eight inch reflector) but was probably of slightly better quality.

The telegram was issued on July 29th, containing my offsets from the nucleus The Circular was issued on the July 30th containing both my offsets and Gregg's.

Dr. Ron Buta was doing post-doctoral studies at Mount Stromlo Observatory, and had taken a deep interest in our supernova work, having previously done some research on supernovae at McDonald Observatory before coming south. A night or two later, he began a week of observing at Siding Spring Observatory, using a 24 inch telescope with a photometer attached. Before starting his own work, he went to see the astronomer using the Anglo-Australian Telescope that night, to seek a favour of looking quickly at NGC 1559 with the big telescope. On the monitor screen there appeared the galaxy with two bright stars in it! One star was in the south-west corner, and the other was right in the middle. Ron was not sure what to do.

Both Gregg and I had said that the supernova had an offset to the west, although we differed about the amount of offset, and whether it was north or south. Ron thought that the star in the middle was probably the nucleus. That is what many galaxy nucleii look like. Surely, he thought, I would not have made the mistake of thinking that the nucleus was a supernova! It is a simple mistake to make. So they pointed the slit of the spectrograph at the star in the south-west. It was an ordinary star.

Instead of looking at the nucleus, the AAT observer decided he could not waste his valuable observing time on a dud. The other star was in the middle of the galaxy, and did not have any offset to the west. So he refused to continue the exercise.

Ron went over to the 24 inch telescope, and measured the star in the middle of the galaxy with his photometer - brightness and colours. He then went across to the library and found the publication in which the photometric measurements of the nucleus of this galaxy were listed. There was a spectacular difference. After careful calculations, he reported to the Central Bureau that the star in the middle of the galaxy was a supernova of magnitude 13.4, and its strong blue colour indicated that, probably, it was of type 2. In this ingenious way, Ron proved that the central star was a supernova, without using spectra. But, the weather at Siding Spring turned against him. After working on my star, the weather changed for the whole week, and he did not manage to do anything else.

U.K.Schmidt astronomers took a plate of this object. It was difficult, because the whole central area of the galaxy had a high surface brightness, and easily became over-exposed. So, the supernova in the middle was not easy to see on the Schmidt plate. Peter Anderson also took pictures using Tri-X film. The body of the galaxy did not show as well as ordinary stars on this type of film, so, in his photos, the stars all stood out clearly, and the supernova was easy to see.

Later, other spectral studies confirmed that it was of type 2. It was also studied for interstellar lines by Max Pettini. The International Ultraviolet Explorer satellite also observed it. This supernova became known as SN 1984J.

A New Class of Supernova

The third supernova in 42 days appeared at the end of August in the galaxy NGC 991, which became known as SN 1984L. I had got up early to observe some of the morning galaxies, worked through a number of them, and as first light was approaching I decided that NGC 991 would be the last one I would look at. As a result, Tom Cragg was not able to confirm the discovery until the next night. The original sighting was on the morning of August 28th (local time), which corresponds to August 27.8 (Universal Time, or Greenwich Time. = U.T.) As well as ringing Tom, I rang Robert Thicksten at Palomar, to tell him of the discovery, and of the needed confirmation. I also rang Professor Craig Wheeler at the University of Texas. So I knew that the new supernova would be observed promptly at McDonald Observatory.

News of Tom's confirmation came in first, and the discovery was reported to the Central Bureau, again through Elizabeth Waagen of the A.A.V.S.O. The time of his observation was August 28.8 (U.T.), and the telegram announcing the discovery was issued promptly.

But Robert Thicksten had been at work, as well. Two short exposures had been made at August 28.5 U.T. (actually before Tom's observation) by Eleanor Helin and her collaborators, using the 18 inch Palomar Schmidt. The results of these photos were also reported promptly to the Central Bureau, and appeared on the Circular with news of the discovery. Robert also took a great picture of the supernova with the Palomar 60 inch telescope.

Ron Buta made photoelectric measurements of the magnitude and the colours of this supernova with the 24 inch telescope. He reported that these showed it was a type 1 supernova about two weeks after maximum light.

As mentioned in an earlier section of this book, spectral observations were made quickly by Bruce Margon and others, using one of the Kitt Peak telescopes. This report stated that the supernova was of type 1, but was between 20 and 60 days past maximum light. Later again, Ron reported upon spectra made with the 74 inch telescope at Mount Stromlo Observatory, to say that the supernova was of type 2, and not type 1. These 74 inch spectra, however, only covered a very narrow part of the blue range.

Upon hearing of the idea that the supernova was some weeks past maximum, I looked back through my observing records, and rang Craig Wheeler to say that I had observed the galaxy one month earlier, and there had been no sign of the supernova.

Probably through a tip-off from Texas, the supernova had also been monitored soon after maximum at radio wavelengths with the Very Large Array, in New Mexico. A radio signal had been detected. Other observations revealed a radio curve, of the same kind as they had seen with SN 1983N.

The recognition of the new class of supernovae was claimed by Craig Wheeler at the conference at Harvard about 28th September, where supernovae as distance indicators were being discussed, as mentioned earlier.

Not everybody was at this conference, so not everybody knew what Craig had said. Even by the end of October, indecision still reigned in the I.A.U. Circulars about the nature of this supernova. Because the supernova had been claimed to be both type 1 and type 2, James Graham reported on observations with the U.K. Infra-Red Telescope that details of the supernova were not like type 2, but more like what Elias had observed of the infra-red features of a type 1 supernova.

Finally, later in November, Craig Wheeler reported in an I.A.U. Circular that the spectra made at McDonald Observatory on August 28th, showed SN 1984L to be a "peculiar type 1" supernova at maximum brightness, remarkably like SN 1983N. A few days later, Margon and Downes reported upon a series of seven spectra they had made over sixty days, that the supernova was indeed that of a "peculiar type 1" supernova very similar to SN 1983N.

In due course, SN 1983N and SN 1984L became recognised as the prototype examples of this class of peculiar type 1. After some more indecision about what the class should be called, eventually the name "type 1b" became accepted universally, although it was also recognised that variations existed within the class.

Still there was indecision, for a year or two, as to whether these variations should be treated simply as variations within a class, or as a class on their own. Whether the reasons were really adequate or not, the eventual agreement was that the classes would be separate. Stars like SN 1983N would be called type 1b supernovae, and the variants were called type 1c supernovae. That is the practice today.

Naturally, having a small part in such changes in the supernova landscape provided much interest and excitement for me. Although I lived at a great distance from the centres of activity, and did not regularly receive astronomical news or periodicals, I managed to pick up some of the details. I even caught a little of the interest it created for the main astronomers who were involved in leading the research. It was a privilege to be even a small part of the scene.


At the beginning of this year, our family moved from the north coast town of Maclean to the Blue Mountains township of Hazelbrook, about eighty kilometres west of Sydney. The house which the Parish had bought for us to live in was in a valley, with street lights and trees around. One very large tree which overshadowed the driveway had a sudden accident. With a few adjustments, it became possible to observe from the front driveway, near the front door, and with the telescope living in the garage.

Invitation to the I.A.U. General Assembly

I was greatly surprised to be asked to present a short paper on my visual supernova hunting at the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union, being held that year in New Dehli. The I.A.U. was organised around a number of Commissions, each of which was centred around a particular area of interest. One of the day-long main events at the General Assembly was a Joint Discussion about Supernovae, which was being supported by several of the Commissions. Being a mere amateur, I was not a member of the I.A.U. And it was almost unheard of for an amateur to be asked to contribute in this way. Leif Robinson, editor of "Sky and Telescope," said in 1988 that, even a few years before this 1985 General Assembly he could not have imagined such a thing happening, as the involvement of an amateur in this way. The I.A.U. paid for my room in the hotel, for some of the meals, and for part of my airfare.

Apart from the unusual nature of the exercise, I had a wonderful experience meeting some famous astronomers, and hearing papers on many aspects of astronomy, including some about which I knew nothing. The day of papers on supernovae was, of course, especially interesting, as were the people who gave the papers. The papers from the seven Joint Discussions (including mine) were all published in the Proceedings of the Assembly.

On the Sunday before the JD on supernovae, we all went by bus to Agra, to see the Taj Mahal, and an old palace of built by Akbar. There were 31 busloads, altogether. It was a great day! Many of us got "Dehli belly" from the food we ate on the way. I well remember sitting in the bus on the way back to New Dehli, praying like mad for an hour or more that I would not have a major lower-end mishap in the bus, before I could get to a proper toilet. The toilet area at Akbar's palace, where I really needed urgently to go, was an open-air affair, manned by several "untouchables," in full view of busloads of people, and there was absolutely no privacy or toilet paper. One member of the Australian contingent was so sick for a few days that he said he thought he was going to die. Thankfully I was not sick enough to keep me away from the Joint Discussion, which was on the next Tuesday.

One result of the Joint Discussion which had long-term results was a suggestion by Dr. Sidney Van Den Bergh of Canada that I should let him do some work on my negative galaxy observations, in order to arrive at an estimation of how often supernovae appear in average galaxies of different kinds.

When I got back home, I photocopied my observing records, from November, 1980, to October, 1985, and posted them to him. This became the basis for the paper, authored mainly by himself and Robert McClure, and to which my name was added, on supernova rates in Shapley-Ames galaxies, and which was published in the Astrophysical Journal in 1987. This paper was revised two years later, and provided the basis for a number of other papers of a similar kind over following years, authored by Dr. Van Den Bergh, and others.

I was surprised what interesting and good science he was able to get out of such an assortment of visual observations. I was surprised how the subject related to so many areas of research.

The Blue Mountains weather pattern was in many ways similar to the pattern in Maclean, with a lot of cloud coming in from the ocean, and about thirty percent of night time being useful for observing.

During the year, I tried to find other observing sites further west, which were not so affected by the coastal cloud patterns. One that I used a few times was in Hartley Vale, just west of the Blue Mountains. This was soon destroyed by the redevelopment of the road to Jenolan Caves, which took my site out completely. I started using another site off the highway at Napoleon Reefs, about 12 miles on the eastern side of the city of Bathurst. It was more inclined to be affected by bad seeing when a wind rose.

It was at this site that I found the only discovery I made in 1985. On October 10th, about midnight, I saw a new star in the southern barred spiral galaxy NGC 1433. I went down into Kelso to find a public phone. Gregg Thompson verified the discovery, and reported it to the Central Bureau. When I got back home, I also reported what I had seen. The telegram was issued promptly, and also the I.A.U. Circular. Again the difficulty existed that our offsets from the nucleus were a little different, but not as much as the previous time. Fred Watson took a photo with the U.K.Schmidt, and from this plate Rob. McNaught provided an exact position, and correct offsets. Spectra soon showed that it was a type 2 supernova. The so-called "plateau" type 2s maintain brightness for three months before declining, so this supernova could be seen for some time.

Ron Buta had by this time gone back to the United States. But NGC 1433 had figured strongly in his prize-winning PhD thesis, as a classic instance of the development in spiral arm structure that he had been exploring. After all the interest he had taken in our supernova hunting, and all the help he had provided in the verification of discoveries, and in the development of Gregg's charts, I got a lot of pleasure in finding this supernova in his "favourite galaxy." It was called SN 1985P.

During 1985 I applied to a government funding agency for a larger telescope for this work. It was a small fund offering modest amounts of funding to people like me, called the Science and Industry Endowment Fund, and was operated by the C.S.I.R.O. Ron Buta wrote one of the supporting papers backing my application. In this way, a basic 16 inch Meade equatorial telescope, with a brace of new eyepieces, arrived at our place about the end of the year.

The other things of note astronomically which happened to me in 1985 relate to several awards that I received.

The first of these was that I was awarded the Berenice Page Medal by the Astronomical Society of Australia. The A. S. A. is the professional organisation in this country. Every few years they award this medal for excellence in observational astronomy to someone who is recommended to them by one or another of the astronomy clubs. Elaine and I flew down to Hobart, where it was to be awarded, and where the major amateur Convention was being held that year. N.A.C.A.A., as it is called, meets every second year, varying from state to state. One great benefit I have enjoyed which flowed from this award was that it included the ability to become a member of this Astronomical Society. Normally, members had to be professional astronomers, or post-graduate students.

Another award was the Amateur Achievement Award, which was presented by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, in San Francisco. It was awarded to both Gregg Thompson and myself jointly. Gregg had been the driving force behind the production of his set of 240 Search charts, which were belatedly published in 1990. He also did all the art work, and nursed the charts through production. These charts, or something like them, were essential before a visual supernova search could get off the ground. Gregg's charts constituted the first of two main resources that I used in my supernova hunting. (My other resource was the increasing set of 35mm slides which I continued to develop, made from the Schmidt survey fields.) My share in the award was for proving in practice that the system worked, and in this way opening up this new field of amateur astronomy for others. Gregg made the trip to the U.S.A., and received the awards for us both, calling also on his joint author, James Bryan.

I heard later that James played a trick on Gregg, when he was visiting in Texas. They went out to look at some of the northern galaxies for which Gregg had drawn charts, and upon which James had worked, also. With an innocent look upon his face, James pointed his telescope at NGC 5033, and invited Gregg to look at it. Gregg did not know that a supernova had recently been found in this galaxy (This was SN 1985L, found by Nataliya Metlova). For a few minutes, Gregg found it hard to make sense of what he could see, when comparing it with the chart. Somehow the pattern of stars did not make sense, until it suddenly dawned upon him that an additional bright star was present. That livened up the conversation a little!

SN 1986A

The new 16 inch Meade telescope began service at the start of this year. Although the mounting was equatorial, and had a clock drive, it was based upon three legs, and the whole thing was mounted on wheels. In this way it could be kept in the garage and moved out across a smooth surface onto the driveway, ready for observing. It was too cumbersome to move by myself otherwise.

My first real discovery with the new telescope was SN 1986A, which appeared in the galaxy NGC 3367, in the constellation of Leo.

I found it later in the evening on February 4th (local time), a little east of the nucleus of the galaxy, and about 14th magnitude. My normal methods of getting confirmation collapsed, probably because of bad weather. So, I called Mike Candy at Perth Observatory, who took a photograph with one of the Perth telescopes, measured the position and the offsets of the supernova, and sent his confirmation to the Central Bureau. Astronomers Cameron and Leibundgut also found it on a photograph they had taken that same night at Las Campanas Observatory. But their report came in a little later.

Dan Green had sent a call from the Central Bureau for spectroscopic confirmation. Reports came back quickly from Whipple Observatory, and from McDonald Observatory, that it was a type 1 supernova at about maximum light.

I managed to get two pictures of this supernova. One was taken with the U.K.Schmidt, and the other by Peter Anderson.

How To Make Mistakes With a Larger Telescope

The new and larger telescope made some of the galaxies look different from what they had looked like beforehand. So it was inevitable that some queries, and some false alarms, would follow, as I slowly got used to it.

One of these concerned the galaxy NGC 5363, which appears on Gregg's chart of NGC 5364. There is a bright foreground star in front of NGC 5363, of about magnitude 13. I had not been able to distinguish it from the rest of the galaxy with the ten inch telescope, and it was not marked on Gregg's chart, as it existed at that time. Nor did it appear on any existing photographs of the galaxy. As a result, I did not know that this star was present. When I first observed this galaxy with the new telescope, the star was obvious. I rang both Rob McNaught, at Siding Spring Observatory, and the observer at the U.K.Schmidt. I also rang Robert Thicksten at Palomar.

Robert Thicksten gained the cooperation of the astronomer in charge of the 200 inch telescope that night, who went over all of the stars near NGC 5363 with a spectroscope. They were all normal stars. I did not find out this result for several days.

Meanwhile, Dr. Russell Cannon, then in charge at the U.K.Schmidt, took a short exposure photo of the whole area around NGC 5363. This did not reveal the star, either, but for different reasons. The central part of the galaxy was over-exposed, even on a very short exposure, and the star was not visible.

Rob. McNaught went through various galaxy catalogues, and eventually found one which mentioned the existence of the bright foreground star.

Later the following year, a group of professional astronomers in Japan reported to the Central Bureau their discovery of a 13th magnitude supernova near the centre of NGC 5363. Carrying all the credibility of professional astronomers, this discovery was duly announced to the world. (It is officially listed as SN 1987H.) After observing the galaxy, Rob McNaught and I (mere amateurs, both of us) reported back to the Central Bureau that NGC 5363 appeared completely normal, and that the 13th magnitude star was also normal, being listed in a certain catalogue which had been published some years beforehand. Professional astronomers can make mistakes, too.

Of course, we all made sure that the star appeared on Gregg's drawing of NGC 5363, on the chart of NGC 5364, when it was published later on.

In 1986, however, as I continued trying to get used to the extra capacity of the 16 inch telescope, more false alarms and queries followed.

On April 24th, I made the same mistake as the Japanese astronomers were to make, and reported to the Central Bureau the existence of a supernova (so I thought) next to the central condensations in NGC 5253. The observation was made during a total lunar eclipse, when the sky was dark for about an hour in the middle of the full moon. I also observed a number of other galaxies in that period.

This galaxy is not regular in shape, and has several condensations which are off to one side, so I was to find out. Although I did not have any confirmation, I was convinced about it, and Dr. Brian Marsden announced the discovery of SN 1986F.

A very short exposure plate was soon taken with the U.K.Schmidt, by Dr. Ann Savage, back home from her stint in Scotland. Rob. McNaught examined this photo carefully, and measured the knots in the galaxy, comparing them with some previous detailed photos and descriptions. He reported to the Central Bureau that no new object appeared to be present.

Attempts at spectra were made with the 4 metre telescope at Cerro Tololo, and with the 3 metre telescope at Lick Observatory. They both confirmed the view that no supernova was present.

I visited Tom Cragg's place on Siding Spring Mountain soon after that, and was surprised when I looked at Ann's plate, and at the other older pictures. I had been totally convinced that I had found something. In fact, it had all been due to the effect of having a more powerful telescope which showed better detail than what I was used to being able to see.

SN 1986G

On May 3rd, in my normal patrol, I observed NGC 5128, the famous galaxy also known as Centaurus A. I was pleasantly surprised and very pleased to see a new star of about magnitude 13 at one end of the dust lane which ran through that galaxy. Nothing had been present down to magnitude 15.5 on April 24th, during the lunar eclipse. I watched it for half an hour. It did not move, so it was not an asteroid.

I rang both Tom Cragg and Rob. McNaught, up on Siding Spring Mountain. After the mess with SN 1986F, it was good that so much notice was taken of this new sighting. Things happened quickly.

Tom observed the new object, and then went up to the Anglo-Australian Telescope to confer with the astronomers who were using the telescope that night. They did not believe him when he told them there was a new supernova in Centaurus A. So, Tom went down into the office area of the observatory, on a lower floor, and took down from the wall the large photograph of Centaurus A, and took it up to the control room, in order to prove his point. As the giant telescope pointed at the famous galaxy, producing a picture on the monitor screen, there in the dust lane was this strange new star which did not appear anywhere on the large photograph. The equipment on the telescope that night was probably not suitable for making a study of the supernova, but Tom could get an exact position for the star by reading the details off the control panel of the telescope. The A.A.T. has a very accurate pointing ability.

Meanwhile Rob. had gone across to the U.K.Schmidt, where Dr. Colin Humphries was working. He had recently taken over the control of the telescope from Russell Cannon. Seeing conditions were not good, but Colin's photograph of the galaxy was taken quickly, and developed. Rob. measured an exact position and offsets from it. All these details were reported in to the Central Bureau, and, despite my recent blunder with SN 1986F, SN 1986G was duly announced by telegram, with Tom's confirmation. All the other details came out in the I.A.U. Circular which was issued on May 5th.

A remarkable and strange photograph showing the supernova was made in the following way. Six months earlier, astronomer Ray Sharples had applied for a photo of Centaurus A to be made with the Anglo-Australian Telescope, in search of globular clusters. David Malin was the photographer. A night was allocated, and it was agreed that the photo would only be taken if the seeing conditions were excellent. The night arrived, and the seeing was superb. The supernova was near maximum light. Three plates with different colour filters were taken, but, later, in the darkroom, it was found that one of the plates had failed. A black and white picture, using the "J" plate, was published soon afterwards. But it was six months before another copy of the third plate could be exposed, and by that time the supernova had gone. The resulting high-quality colour photo of Centaurus A which was published shows a round green spot where the supernova had been.

As mentioned in other parts of this book, the supernova was found more than a week before maximum light, and the spectral details were peculiar, despite being clearly of type 1a. The name "type 1a" had begun to be used widely by that time. It was observed extensively at many observatories, and by the International Ultra-violet Explorer satellite. It could not be observed by radio astronomers, because the supernova was buried in the midst of the strongest radio source in the whole sky. Nobody had yet observed a type 1a supernova in radio (only type 1b and type 2), and even if it was theoretically observable, they would not be able to separate it from the rest of the radio noise coming from the galaxy.

High dispersion spectroscopy of this supernova was used to observe details of several inter-galactic clouds of gas in between ourselves and NGC 5128. The same had happened with SN 1983N. With SN 1986G, obstruction caused by the gas in the dust lane was also visible in the spectra.

SN 1986L

With some galaxies, and at some periods, it has been possible to observe galaxies more often than at other times. On October 2nd, I observed NGC 1559, in which I had found a supernova in 1984. On this date, the galaxy appeared normal.

On October 7th, a new star was visible, equal to the foreground star in the south-west quadrant of the galaxy. In this case, the new star was west of centre. Because of all the problems last time with inaccurate offsets from the nucleus that we could not see, I had a better idea where the nucleus was, although I still could not see it. The supernova was in a bright emission region on the outside edge of the main bright arms of the galaxy, and due west of the nucleus. I contacted Rob. McNaught, Tom Cragg and Gregg Thompson for confirmation, and when these were available, I rang the Central Bureau to report the details.

Duncan Waldron took a plate of the galaxy with the U.K.Schmidt Telescope, and from this photo Rob. made an exact measurement of the position and offsets. Again, there was difficulty taking a Schmidt photo which showed good details of the central areas of the galaxy, because of its high surface brightness, but this time the supernova was out on the edge of the bright area, instead of being in the middle. As a result, it was easier to see. However, again, Peter Anderson's photo, using a different film, made the stars easier to see against the galaxy, although in other ways it had nothing like the detail of the Schmidt photo.

Most of the spectra that I heard about were taken in South Africa. It was a type 2 supernova, which reached magnitude 13.3 at maximum, about the same brightness as the previous one.

This was the first instance where an amateur had found two supernovae in the one galaxy, and been officially credited with both of them. There had been the instance of SN 1980N and SN 1981D in NGC 1316 which I have described earlier in this section of the book, but I had not been the first person to find SN 1980N. My discovery of it was an independent discovery, and not the official one.

There had been a number of double discoveries like this by professional astronomers in the past. Zwicky had made double discoveries three times, although several of these discoveries had been of "dead" supernovae, on photographs which had been taken a long time previously. At that time, no observer had officially discovered three supernovae in any one galaxy.

Since that time, several others have achieved this feat of two discoveries in the one galaxy, both professional and amateur.

During 1986, many visitors came to Australia to see Halley's Comet. Father Royer brought several young friends to Australia, and they visited us at Hazelbrook. One touring group invited Elaine and me to meet them in Sydney, and so I renewed contacts with John Bortle, Dan Green and Charles Morris.

Despite the fact that Ronald Royer had visited Australia previously, and spent time with the Craggs at Siding Spring, he said he had never heard kookaburras laugh. He and his friends brought to Hazelbrook a 5 inch astrograph with a C8 as guidescope, wrapped in odd clothes, as luggage. With this he photographed Halley from our driveway, and enjoyed renewing acquaintance with Omega Centauri through my 16 inch. After breakfast the next morning, about nine kookaburras landed in our backyard, and on the clothes line. I hurriedly dug the garden, to make the birds think I was getting grubs and lizards for them to eat. They all started laughing (it was deafening), and Royer's group took home the picture and sound of it all on their home video. One of the group shot a whole reel of film as he tried to edge closer to one bird on the clothes line.

More Awards

1986, 1987 and 1988 were years in which I received many more awards for the results of my observing programme.

The first of these was the Leslie Peltier Award, presented by the Astronomical League, in the United States. The Astronomical League is a confederation of astronomy clubs, mainly in the mid-western states.

Another came from the Western Amateur Astronomers in California. It was the E. E. Barnard Award, and I believe (although I am not sure) that it was the first time this award was presented.

I did not hear about either of these awards until they arrived in the post, and I was greatly surprised. Naturally I wrote appreciative letters in reply.

In 1987, I was surprised to hear that I was to be presented with one of the twelve Centenary Medals of the Societe Astronomique de France. 1987 marked the Centenary of this august body. I had known that the gathering was to take place in Paris, but in Australia, events like that are a long way away, and it is very expensive to get to them. It would be lovely to have enough money to be able to go to gatherings like that. About two weeks before the start of the Centenary Convention in Paris, a letter arrived to inform we of the honour being bestowed. I wrote a letter in reply, expressing my thanks and appreciation for the honour they were granting me, and accepting the award.

The only Australian attending the gathering was Dr. Zdenek Kviz, who was a lecturer at the University of New South Wales, but who did some observing in Switzerland. He had been at the Joint Discussion in New Dehli, in 1985. He received this very attractive medal on my behalf, and in due course came to our home in Hazelbrook to present it to me personally.

The final award that I received in this period up to 1988 was from the Australian Government. Australia has an award system like the Imperial system of awards in Britain, and these are presented in the name of the Governor General ( the Queen's representative here). On Australia's Bi-Centenary Day of white settlement in this land, the announcement was made that, amongst many others, I was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia. In my case, it was for contributions to science, particularly astronomy. Naturally, I knew about the award a few months before that, so that the Government knew that I would accept it graciously. But I could not tell anyone about it until it was officially announced. The announcement was made on 26th January, 1988. All of the awards I received are special, of course, each in its own way. But this one was special in a different kind of way, and was appreciated by me very much. Still to this day I do not know who nominated me for the award, although I have had a few guesses.


As everybody knows, no supernovae were found in 1987 until late in February, when SN 1987A suddenly hit us. I had wanted to find 1987A, just as I had found 1986A. On February 23rd, I had a strange feeling that a supernova was around. So, I wanted to go out and look. It was cloudy at Hazelbrook, where we lived, as it was many nights. So I started making plans to go out west to Napoleon Reefs, near Bathurst. I rang a minister at Bathurst to ask him what the weather was like. His reply was that it was 50-50. It might be good, but there was a very good chance that it might not be. A long drive late at night could be a complete waste of time and money. My wife prevailed upon me to stay at home, and go to bed. It was that night, but some hours later, that SN 1987A was found by Shelton, Duhalde and by Albert Jones. When Rob. McNaught rang me up and asked if I had heard the news, I said, "What have I missed?"

However, it was only the next night, February 24.7 U.T., about 24 hours after the real discovery of 1987A by Shelton, that I saw a faint star in NGC 5850, which made me suspicious. It was a long way out from the main parts of the galaxy, in the very outer arms. I rang Rob McNaught for verification. He had to wait until the next morning to verify it, but forgot, because he was so busy with the bright one. The following night, I forgot the faint suspicious star as well. It was early on the morning of the 28th, local time, (Feb. 27.7. U.T.) that the new star in NGC 5850 was verified by both Rob. McNaught, and by Gregg Thompson. It was promptly announced, and became SN 1987B.

Details about spectra which were published in the Circulars showed it was a type 2 supernova. But soon after, I began to hear that it had very strange features. The emission lines became very narrow, like those of an ordinary nova. Yet the red-shift was clearly extra-galactic. The star was part of NGC 5850, and not of the Milky Way. It defied explanation.

The best photograph I had of that supernova was taken in California by Father Royer. It was published in "Deep Sky" magazine. Because the supernova was so far out from the centre of the galaxy, and relatively faint, Royer marked it with an arrow on the negative. That served the publisher well, but it meant that I have never been able to test members of an audience with "before and after" pictures of NGC 5850, asking them to find the supernova, as I have done in other cases.

The other discovery that I had in 1987 did not happen until December. On several occasions, a lawyer friend of mine, Win Howard, and I had travelled to Coonabarabran to observe at Tom's place for a few nights. We did that again about the middle of December, 1987. The first night was not the best, and we did not do much astronomy. I had a feeling that a supernova might perhaps be found, which prompted me to buy a bottle of apple juice, so that we could celebrate. This was only a feeling. Naturally I hoped to find one every time I went out to observe.

That night, from Tom's driveway, after looking at a number of galaxies with my portable ten inch telescope, I turned to NGC 7606. There was a new star, just near the nucleus.

We had good reactions from the observers on both large telescopes, the 3.9 metre A.A.T., and the 2.3 metre Advanced Technology Telescope. Exact positions were gained from the control panels of both of them. Arthur Page was involved with two friends in searching for flare stars with the smaller Uppsala Schmidt, and he took a photo. It was not a pretty photo, but Rob. McNaught used to get a measured position and offsets for the supernova. The star was fairly low in the west by that stage, and spectra were obtained the next night. It was a type 1a supernova, and was called SN 1987N.

But the apple juice did not survive as long as that. Rob, Tom, Win and I celebrated with it in Tom's kitchen just two hours after the discovery.

Robert Thicksten also took a photo with the 48 inch Palomar Schmidt. This short exposure picture of the supernova was published in the French "Pulsar" magazine, and the plate itself eventually arrived at my place by post.

Several days after the discovery, Dr. Paul Murdin went observing with the British telescopes in the Canary Islands. Having written a book about supernovae, he was keen to observe a new "Christmas" supernova. A range of details were obtained, using several of the telescopes. Results of the night's work were published in an I.A.U. Circular, which included the first published detail of an observation with the new 4.2 metre William Herschel Telescope. One comment Paul made was that the supernova appeared to be in front of the spiral arm of NGC 7606, because no obscuration lines appeared in the spectrum at the red shift of the parent galaxy.


This discovery at the end of 1987 was followed a few weeks later by a share in SN 1988A.

The Japanese comet-hunter, Kaoru Ikeya, had started visual searching for supernovae. Elsewhere we noted his other successes.

Details about the discovery of this supernova have been explained in another section.

I had observed NGC 4579 (Messier 58) on January 15th, and all appeared normal. My next observation was on 22nd, when I found the supernova. I could not get it confirmed immediately on the local scene, as it was only a few hours before dawn. Nor did I wish to miss out on being part of a discovery because of having to wait 24 hours for help. So I rang the Central Bureau directly. I was asked if I had heard anything about this star from some other source. The answer was "No!" Then I was told that my independent observation acted as verification for Ikeya's discovery of this supernova.

SN 1988A turned out to be a type 2 supernova of the "plateau" variety, and was visible at around magnitude 14.5 - 15.0 for three months before dropping from sight. That was my only discovery for the year.

1988 saw my second "astronomical" trip to the United States, mainly to attend the AGM of the American Association of Variable Star Observers, which was held at the Smithsonian Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Apart from Dr. Janet Mattei's generosities, the trip was largely paid for by arranging to give talks at a number of observatories, university departments and astronomy clubs. These talks were at the combined Astrophysics and Astronomy Departments at Berkeley, the University of Chicago, the Chicago Astronomical Society, the A.A.V.S.O., the Harvard Center for Astrophysics, the Stamford Astronomical Society, the San Antonio Society, the University of Texas at Austin, (plus a night at McDonald Observatory with a C14, with my friend from Austin, Dr. Glenn Roark), at the Very Large Array Observatory, and at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (staying with Dr. van den Bergh).

In Berkeley, I was guest of Dr. Carl Pennypacker and his family, and looked over the Leuschner Observatory, which was then being used for the Berkeley Automatic Search. A friendly rivalry existed between our two projects during that period.

Trips like this open up many new friendships and working relationships, and also develop many others which already existed. This particular trip was certainly not short in that regard.


My only discovery in 1989 was the part I had in finding SN 1989B in the galaxy NGC 3627 (Messier 66). Parts of this story have already been told in other parts of the book, as well. Before my 1988 trip I had come into contact with Steve Lucas, who lived in Midlothian, a southern suburb of Chicago. He had exhibited a great deal of driving force and enthusiasm in organising a supernova searching network which he called "Sunsearch." On the trip, I met him and his family, stayed at his home, and went observing with him one night.

Late in January, 1989, Steve observed M66 just a day or two before I found the supernova, and during his observation he was suspicious of that part of the galaxy where the supernova was to appear. Probably the supernova was just visible to him. But, apparently it was so close to normal appearance in his telescope that it did not sufficiently set off alarm bells in his head.

I was at the Lucas's home again during my 1992 trip to the U.S., but, sadly, by that time, Steve had been forced to change his job, taking up a line of work which was much more time-consuming. He could not schedule other activities much, and he no longer had the time to observe, or to run "Sunsearch."

Federico Manzini also made an independent visual discovery of this supernova. In 1992 I had the great privilege of visiting Italy as guest of the national amateur organisation. I was a guest in his home, and saw his observatory, which was by that time changing to CCD observations of galaxies.

Apart from SN 1989B, I just managed to see the faint supernova in NGC 7339 that the Berkeley group found (SN 1989L), and did not see the bright supernova in NGC 4579 (M58) until well after it had been found by a Russian professional astronomer (SN 1989M).


The time lapse between the appearance of SN 1989B and my first discovery in (late May) 1990 seemed very long indeed.

Around this time I had been particularly mindful of the fact that supernovae can rise to brightness as galaxies become visible in the morning sky, after having been hidden for a while by the brightness of the sun. On the morning of May 29th (local time), which is May 28.7 (Universal Time) I came across a new star in the spiral arm of NGC 150, in the eastern sky, and less than an hour before first light. By the time I was ready to contact someone for confirmation, only half an hour remained before the first signs of daylight.

I first rang Tom Cragg. I knew that he was willing to get out of bed for such a purpose, if I was confident that the star was a real supernova. He said he would try to observe it, but there was cloud around, and he might not succeed. Also his telescope had been rolled into its shed, and it would take time to get it out, and set it in a position so that his setting circles could be used.

With doubt about whether Tom would succeed, a back stop arrangement was necessary. What could I do in such a short time before first light? I decided to be bold, and I rang directly to the control room at the Anglo-Australian Telescope. I managed to speak to Dr. Elaine Sadler, one of the A.A.O. astronomers at that time, who was a keen researcher on supernovae. She was able to confirm the discovery, but it was not until later that I found out what had happened in the process.

The Anglo-Australian Telescope had been fitted with a new CCD, and a correcting lens which produced a very fast focal ratio of F/1. So, the observing programme for that night had been direct imaging. It had been cloudy all night at Siding Spring, until about four o'clock in the morning, when the sky cleared. They had then opened the dome and started observing. But the humidity was so high both inside and outside the dome that the corrector lens (at the top end of the telescope) had fogged up, and worthwhile observing was impossible. By the time I rang the control room, the telescope had been shut down, the astronomer in charge for the night had left to go to bed, and the night assistant was in the process of walking out the door. Elaine was there because it was A.A.O. policy to have a resident astronomer present, as well as the technician who ran the telescope, when some visiting astronomers were using the facilities. So, Elaine was almost there by herself.

When she heard the purpose of my call, she got the technician to come back and restart the telescope. I was told that the technician that night, Kevin Cooper, only agreed to do it if his name also appeared in any I.A.U.Circular which might result. (This practice of including the technician was not completely uncommon at the A.A.T, anyway. I saw it happen at other times.)

CCD observations of NGC 150 were made with a fogged correcting lens as the dawn approached, after first light. Elaine then consulted the ESO Survey, and in this way had clear evidence that my star was indeed a supernova. and she rang me back later in the morning with the news.

When I talked to Tom, later in the morning, I found he had got dressed, got out his telescope, started to line up on the galaxy, but was then clouded out. So he did not manage to see the supernova that morning.

Later observing showed it to be a type 2 supernova which had been found soon after maximum light. It was called SN 1990K.

The second discovery took place just three weeks later. Dr. Carl Pennypacker, leader of the Berkeley Automatic Supernova Search had offered to buy me a new eyepiece, as a very modest side expense on their budget. In due course, early in 1990, a new 4.8 mm Nagler eyepiece arrived in the post. It provided magnification twice as high as I normally used. It was this eyepiece, however, that was used in these next two discoveries, and both of which might have been impossible without it. It is true that I already had a 3 mm Clave Plossl eyepiece, which is one of the shortest eyepieces available, but the field of view through it was too small for it to be of much regular use in supernova searching.

On June 15th, amongst many others, I observed the small elliptical galaxy, NGC 5493. Through my normal eyepieces the galaxy seemed normal, though perhaps a little bit bigger than usual. The 4.8 mm eyepiece had been used fairly often since it arrived, and so it was turned onto this galaxy. With nearly 400x, it became possible to see that a star was present immediately next to the nucleus, about the same brightness as the nucleus, but so close that it was not visible in my telescope with the normal magnification that I used.

Tom Cragg made the confirming observation, and I reported the discovery to the Central Bureau. It was announced as SN 1990M.

First professional observations came in from the International Ultraviolet Explorer satellite. My offsets from the galaxy's nucleus had not been accurate enough, and the satellite had to go looking for the supernova. But they achieved good sightings of it. It was a type 1a supernova, found just before maximum light. At maximum, it was just a little brighter than the nucleus, about mag. 12.5.

From the story so far, it will be evident to the reader that it is sometimes difficult, while observing visually, to arrive at an accurate estimate of the number of seconds of arc that a star may be away from the galaxy nucleus, and in which direction. With this supernova, I had said it was 15 seconds west and 5 seconds north. Mike Candy of Perth Observatory made a visual observation the next night, and estimated that the supernova was only 5 seconds from the nucleus. It certainly was very close indeed.

James Bryan later told me that he had tried to observe this supernova, after it had been announced. He started with low magnification, and could not see the supernova. So, he increased the magnification - still no supernova. He increased the magnification again, and began to think that I had made a gigantic blunder in announcing any discovery. But, higher magnification still, and there the supernova began to become obvious, very close to the nucleus.

Elaine Sadler provided me with great pictures of this supernova, taken with the new CCD setup on the Anglo-Australian Telescope. Several other good pictures were published.

Perhaps it should be remembered that there were no charts of NGC 150 or NGC 5493, only Schmidt photographs, and verbal descriptions in galaxy catalogues.

SN 1990N was also a very bright supernova, in the Virgo galaxy NGC 4639, which is mentioned earlier in the story. I looked at this galaxy before the supernova appeared, and a few weeks later heard about its appearance. So, I saw it well after it was found.

SN 1990W

I had better success in estimating the offset measurements of a supernova with my third discovery for 1990. This galaxy was not favoured with a chart, either, although several Schmidt photos existed.

NGC 6221 is a face-on spiral galaxy in a very crowded star field, only about ten degrees from the equator of the Milky Way. It was one of a small group of galaxies in this area of the sky which I observed regularly. I observed the galaxy on August 10th, and did not see anything unusual. On August 16th, I observed it, using the new 4.8 mm eyepiece, and became suspicious about a very faint star almost as close to the nucleus as SN 1990M had been. I estimated the offset from the nucleus as 5 seconds east, and 3 seconds north.

I alerted friends at Coonabarabran, and also at Perth Observatory, but nothing could be done about verifying the discovery that night, or the next, because of bad weather. I tried to show it to a friend the next night, but could not see it. Perhaps the seeing conditions were not quite so good as the previous night? On August 18th, it was clearly visible again, with the 4.8 mm eyepiece. That night, Elaine Sadler was able to get a spectrum of it using the Anglo-Australian Telescope. She reported that it looked like a type 1 supernova, probably associated with a hydrogen emission region, very close to the nucleus. The position of the star was read from the control panel of the telescope.

Rob. McNaught took a plate with the Uppsala Schmidt telescope, and made exact measurements. His measurements for the offsets from the nucleus were 7.4 seconds east, and 5.4 seconds north. So I thought I had been fairly accurate that time.

Photometric studies showed that the supernova was still increasing a little in brightness. And then Alex Filippenko's spectra showed that it was an example of the rarer type 1c supernovae.

The only photograph I have of this object was provided by Elaine, from her pictures taken through the A.A.T. This was SN 1990W.

The A.A.V.S.O. Meeting in Belgium

This year was also marked by the first attempt made by the A.A.V.S.O. to hold one of their main meetings outside of the United States. A main motive was to foster relations with other variable star groups in Europe, which would improve the number of observations held in the various archives, and thus improve the usefulness of the resources of these groups for astronomers doing research.

I managed to go to this meeting in Brussels only because of the enthusiasm of a young member of one of my congregations who was a travel agent. Kym Ayling raised the money to pay my fare, and got a cheap air ticket to London from Continental Airlines. He secured $1,000 towards the fare from the Australian Geographic Magazine. This magazine ploughs its profits back into scientific activities, and I benefited on this occasion, helped possibly because an article about Australian amateur astronomers had just been commissioned by the magazine, had been written by Terence Dickinson of Canada, and had appeared in the copy of the magazine just prior to the time of my trip.

This flight went to London through Honolulu and Denver. It enabled me to visit English relatives briefly, and meet both old friends and new contacts at the gathering in Brussels. Apart from Tom Cragg, who went to many meetings of this kind, and who on this occasion had his wife, Mary, with him, and Father Royer, I met several keen supernova hunters and observers from Spain and Italy, and got to know new friends from Switzerland, Finland and Belgium, with whom I have maintained some contact.


I had two discoveries of supernovae this year, less than a month apart. The first was that I shared in the discovery of the very bright supernova SN 1991T in NGC 4527. While my phone call to the Central Bureau provided the first information they received about the supernova, in the end there were five official discoverers, all visual observers. This discovery marked a high point in supernova studies for visual searching by amateurs using relatively cheap equipment, and by observers around the world. Details of the find have been given in some detail in an earlier section, and will not be repeated here. Some supernovae turn out to be more important in the scheme of things than others. This was one of the more important ones.

The best photo I got of this supernova was a CCD picture taken with the A.A.T., although a number of other pictures were also published.

The other discovery of mine was of SN 1991X, which appeared in the southern Virgo spiral galaxy NGC 4902. I picked up this star late on the evening of May 5th, and immediately contacted Rob McNaught, at Siding Spring. He used the Uppsala Schmidt again, and from the resulting picture measured an exact position for the supernova, and offsets from the nucleus. He then reported all this to the Central Bureau himself. Emails were just coming into more popular use. When the I.A.U. Circular was issued the following day, spectra were also included from the European Southern Observatory, showing it to be a type 1a supernova around maximum light.

The only photograph that I got of this supernova was made by Father Royer. It was a short exposure, in order not to overdo the supernova, and the nucleus and bar of the galaxy, but, as a result, the photo did not show much of the spiral arms.


Two more discoveries followed in 1992, and I enjoyed two more great astronomy trips overseas. At the start of 1992, Bill Liller found a bright supernova in Fornax, in NGC 1380. This was SN 1992A. He achieved this by photography from his backyard in Chile. A Western Australian, N. Brown, also found it visually. This was another case, one amongst very many, where I did not see the supernova until well after it had been found by someone else.

My first discovery for the year occurred in the evening of 1st July, four days after my return from another trip to the U.S.A. It was a great "baptism" for the new and improved mirror that had been supplied by Meade for the 16 inch telescope, and that I had brought back with me.

Although I had shared discoveries of supernovae in central Virgo a number of times, I never had a discovery of a supernova in Virgo between the equator and the border with Coma Berenices which had been a sole discovery. No doubt, competition with northern observers was the main reason. After all, this area of the sky is a most obvious place for both professional and amateur astronomers in the north to look.

I had taken the trouble to learn some of the Virgo galaxies which were more difficult to see, having much lower surface brightness. This is what paid off on this occasion.

NGC 4411A and NGC 4411B are both face-on spiral galaxies. Technically, they are of magnitude 14.5, but they both have very low surface brightness, and are hard to see. NGC 4411A has a star of mag. 13.7 superimposed near its nucleus. On 1st July, however, I found a supernova just south east of the nucleus of NGC 4411B. I thought it was 40 seconds east and 40 seconds south. No chart was available, only the Schmidt photographs, and a very good picture in the "NASA Atlas of Galaxies".

Rob. McNaught took a picture with the Uppsala Schmidt, and measured the exact position. He found the offsets to be 34.6 seconds east and 26.2 seconds south. Observers on the Anglo-Australian Telescope took spectra, which showed that it was a type 2 supernova, and Rob reported all this to the Central Bureau.

Bill Liller had a pre-discovery photo of the area which showed the supernova. But he had not seen the star because the galaxy was not bright enough to show on his film. The supernova showed on the film, but not the galaxy. If the galaxy had been brighter, someone else would have found the star.

This supernova was called SN 1992ad.

The other supernova was found just before first light on October 1st. (That is Sept. 30.75.U.T.) It was so close to first light that it was no use contacting anyone in eastern Australia for confirmation. The new star was so faint (mag. 15.2) that Danie Overbeek in South Africa would not be able to see it, and as there were no published photos or charts of this galaxy (only my 35mm films from the Schmidt surveys), he would not be able to compare it with anything. The galaxy was so far south that nobody in the northern hemisphere would be able to see it (-64 degrees).

The best option was to find someone in South America to confirm it, but at that time I had no way of contacting anyone to do it. So, I rang Dan Green at the Central Bureau, explained the situation to him, and asked, please would he contact someone in South America for me.

Within twelve hours, Dr. Mark Phillips had produced spectra, using the 4 metre telescope at Cerro Tololo Observatory. It was a type 2 supernova, very early in its history. It was SN 1992ba.

The first of my trips overseas was organised by Ron Ravneberg of the Columbus Astronomical Society in Ohio. The plan was that the Columbus Society would pay my fare, and would collect fees from my speaking engagements, while I would be catered for in private homes. I would be able to attend the A.A.V.S.O. spring meeting, which was in Columbus that year. And, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific asked me to speak at their Convention in Madison, Wisconsin. I spent several days in Los Angeles on the way home. One activity there was to visit the Meade telescope factory, because Ron had arranged for me to swap my original 16 inch mirror for a better one. The original mirror had performed good service, but tests showed it was not really high quality. It had a fair sized turned edge, some major raised areas, and was not polished enough to remove all signs of the rough grinding.

My talks included visits to Perkins Observatory, the Columbus Society, the Apollo Rendezvous in Dayton, Ohio, one in Indianapolis, visits to several of Ron's friends and relatives, several old observatories (such as the one at Cincinnati), and some good collecting of new and old books about American revival movements. I visited briefly with the Lucas's again in Chicago, on the way to and from Wisconsin, where I was to speak at an astronomy convention organised by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

Earlier, I had made about 1,000 35 mm slides of northern galaxies from the Palomar Survey prints at the Anglo-Australian Observatory, at Epping, at the request of Mirko Villi and Giancarlo Cortini, who were then, together, the main driving force behind amateur visual supernova hunting in Italy. They paid for the materials, but it took me a lot of time, and travelling costs to and from Epping. I used the opportunity to improve my own coverage of galaxies north of the equator.

At the end of the northern summer, the Italian amateurs had their national Convention. The main subject was on supernovae, and the meetings were being held in Forli, the home town of Mirko and Giancarlo. The amateur Union had some years earlier raised money to pay for the visit of a special guest and speaker, but had not used it. So, the decision was made to invite me to their convention.

Apart from Mirko and Giancarlo, I already had several other contacts and friends related to supernova work in Italy, so I had the chance to meet them, as well.

It was a wonderful experience, and all my needs were thoroughly catered for, in a way which did not involve any expense to myself. I was looked after very adequately in private homes in Milan and Florence, and at Federico Manzini's home. I had meetings in Milan, Bergamo, Forli, and at the University of Padua. A group of us had a visit to Asiago Observatory, and met Dr. Rosino and his wife, in their retirement place there. I was taken to Venice, Cittadella, Vinci and Pisa, and several other historic places. The historic value of places like that are so different from what we have in Australia, where white settlement has existed for only 200 years. Australia's ancient history, related to geological formations, and to thousands of years of habitation by the aborigines, is of a different kind. Mike Kohl, an amateur astronomer from Switzerland, and whom I had met in Brussels, travelled down specially for a day. Altogether, this trip was a great gift from the Italian amateurs, families and friends.

More Honours and Responsibilities

A special honour which was given to me around this time was that I was asked to be an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. I had been an honorary member of several local astronomy clubs for some few years. The R.A.S.C. is a national body of both professional and amateur astronomers from right across Canada, with branches in more than a dozen cities and towns. Their policy was to have fifteen honorary members at any time, mostly from countries other than Canada, of which at least two were to be amateurs. The list of honorary members included some very illustrious persons in the astronomical world. So, it was a wonderful honour to be asked to join such a group.

If I am an honorary member of any group I like to be able to contribute something. In this case, I have provided an annual article about supernova hunting to the yearly "Observer's Handbook" that is issued by the R.A.S.C.

Also, about this time, I became a Trustee of Linden Observatory, on the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, not far from where we now live. This observatory was founded by a talented and eccentric engineer named Ken Beames, who had designed and built a 24 inch telescope around the time of the Second World War, and put it in a dome on the Linden property which he also built himself. His talents bore many other fruits, but soon before his death in 1989, he had rewritten his will to form a Trust, to care for the future of his telescope, and to use the property for public education in astronomy. The property was of fifty acres, mainly of bush country, and fronting onto the Blue Mountains National Park.

Originally there were two Trustees. One was Ken Beames's lawyer. The other was a well-known radio and TV science personality, who soon afterwards withdrew, suggesting that I should take his place. It has been a long haul to get the property going, from an astronomical point of view. It has been used as a relatively dark sky site by a local astronomy club for some time now. At the time of writing, we are just in the position to establish a new user-friendly Dobson-type 30 inch telescope for public viewing, and which can also be used for worthwhile astronomical projects (such as supernova hunting).


From the point of view of what is good for science, and also so far as amateur astronomy is concerned, the great event of this year was the appearance of a supernova in the famous northern galaxy NGC 3031 (Messier 81), in the constellation of Ursa Major.

It was discovered visually by Francisco Garcia Diaz, a member of the M1 supernova group, linked to the Madrid Astronomical Association, in Spain, in April. One of the other members, Francisco Pujol, had observed the galaxy just two days beforehand, but there was no sign of the new star. It was named SN 1993J.

It was a type 2 supernova, and being the brightest northern supernova for quite a number of years, it was observed very extensively by both amateurs and professionals. The fact that it was in such a prominent galaxy also helped to make it into a popular object for looking. It also provided another instance, one of very few, so far, when it was possible to identify the star which exploded from archival observational materials.

It was great to see some success going to a northern amateur observer, and to an amateur group, in this way. Especially as it was such an important object.

The Perth Observatory Automatic Search found SN 1993K in NGC 2223. Nice, bright and easy to see. The renewed Berkeley Automatic Search was also starting to get regular discoveries.

My only discovery of the year was SN 1993L in the southern galaxy IC 5270. On this occasion, the supernova had just reached maximum brightness as the galaxy became visible in the morning sky, as it came out from behind the sun. When I checked this galaxy in a sky with good transparency after this, the supernova was bright and obvious. Rob McNaught verified it by taking a photo with the Uppsala Schmidt, and measuring the details about it. By the next night, spectra were available from South America showing it was a type 1a supernova, a few weeks past maximum light.

Visit to New Zealand

This year I was invited to be a speaker at the first combined meeting of the Astronomical Society of Australia and the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand. Elaine had never particularly wanted to make overseas trips, and while the family was growing up, could not do so. But she wanted to visit New Zealand. My fare was paid for, so we put in some extra, and we enjoyed a short holiday in the South Island, helped by newly acquired friends in the form of a Presbyterian minister and his wife in Christchurch who was also into astronomy. The meetings were hosted by the University of Canterbury, and held in Christchurch. It was a great occasion, with a much wider range of visitors than normally to such events, including John Percy, Patrick Moore and David Crawford (the expert on light pollution). Later, I spoke to the Christchurch Astronomical Society, and Elaine and I had a short tour through several parts of South Island, mainly by bus and train. We also enjoyed meeting Albert Jones and his wife in Nelson, and some local astronomers.

My talk at this meeting in Christchurch enabled me to enlarge a little on the comparison, and friendly rivalry, which then existed between the work of the Berkeley Automatic Search between 1986 and 1991, and my own project during that same period. At least during that time, the results of our two enterprises were not too far apart. The Berkeley people were limited by the technology of the time. But since 1993, much better technology has become available, and the Berkeley Search has gone ahead by leaps and bounds, as have similar groups, both amateur and professional.

Towards the end of 1993, Elaine and I moved to the parish based in Coonabarabran, the so-called astronomy capital of Australia. The parish was called the Warrumbungles Parish, after the range of volcanic mountains in the area. These mountains included a great little National Park and wild animal refuge, as well as having the Siding Spring Observatory on its boundaries. Our children had all left home by that time. I went there because I thought my standing in the astronomical world might somehow help in the Christian witness there. I had the 16 inch telescope to observe with, from the backyard of the church residence, and I did not expect my observing programme to develop any further than that.


This year several bright supernovae appeared. Firstly, SN 1994D was found by one of the Berkeley groups in the Virgo galaxy NGC 4526. The same group found another at the year's end, in NGC 3370 (SN 1994ae).

But the most interesting supernova for the year was found by half a dozen amateurs scattered around the world. It was SN 1994I, a relatively fainter star in the famous whirlpool galaxy, NGC 5194 (Messier 51) in the northern constellation Canes Venatici. It was found by Tim Puckett and Jerry Armstrong, both from the state of Georgia, and by Wayne Johnson and Doug Millar, both from California. It was also found by astronomy journalist and writer Richard Berry, with one of his earliest CCDs, and by Mrs Reiki Kushida of Japan.

With one of the technicians at Siding Spring Observatory, who was an elder in the congregation I served, I saw this supernova, low in the north, with the Observatory's 16 inch telescope. The galaxy was never visible from my home, being behind the roof of the church from my normal observing spot in the church yard.

The Western Australian, N. Brown, found SN 1994L in NGC 2848 visually.

The first Canadian supernova discovery occurred this year. It was SN 1994U, in the galaxy NGC 4948, and was found from a College observatory in Nova Scotia.

Italian amateurs, Mirko Villi and Giancarlo Cortini, found SN 1994W visually from their mountain observing spot, Monte Colombo, south of Forli, in the galaxy NGC 4041.

Bill Wren worked at McDonald Observatory in Texas by day. In his own time, as an amateur, he was given observing time on one of the smaller professional telescopes during moonlight(when it was not otherwise required), and found SN 1994Y in NGC 5371 visually.

And another amateur, Alex. Wassilief, from the land of the long white cloud, found SN 1994Z in NGC 87, while taking CCD pictures towards his CCD Atlas of southern objects.

Reiki Kushida found a second one for the year, which was SN 1994ak in NGC 2782.

Despite having an observing location with (on the average) a greater number of fine nights per year than we had on the Blue Mountains, or at Maclean, I did not find any supernovae in 1994.

It is surprising how things like that can work against, or for, an observer. The farmers in the Coonabarabran area suffered a massive drought in 1994. There was almost no rain between the middle of March and the middle of November. No summer crops were sown. Most grazing animals were removed on agistment. The observers at the Siding Spring Observatory had ninety percent fine nights that winter, instead of the normal fifty or sixty percent. At our place, there were over 100 nights with frosts, indicating that the sky was clear. Yet, despite all these opportunities, I did not find a supernova

It was also the year that the first very distant supernovae were found by the Supernova Cosmology Project.

So, 1994 represented the reversal (and fulfilment) of what it had been like ten years earlier. Ten years before, I found most of the supernovae that were found by amateurs, and about half of all the brighter supernovae. In 1994, I did not find any, despite doing a lot of hunting, and a string of other amateurs around the world were successful.

Preparing to Search with a Forty Inch Telescope

Although it was not the purpose of my moving to Coonabarabran to use any of the larger telescopes, and I had never thought of any way it could have been done, yet it did become possible to use the forty inch telescope at Siding Spring Observatory for a visual search.

During 1994, the plan developed in my mind to try to conduct an experiment to see what could be done visually with a telescope larger than the 16 inch I normally used. Firstly, I tried to get some Government funding to build and use a dedicated 30 inch or 40 inch telescope. When this failed, I began applying to the Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories Allocation Committee for some nights on their forty inch telescope. This had to be done in open competition with professional astronomers and post-grad. students, who usually used the telescope most nights. They all used CCDs. My project was the only visual one, and the only one run by amateurs. Allocation of observing time to any project was based upon its scientific merit.

We began to be allocated some nights on a rather irregular basis, soon after Christmas, 1994.

This telescope had a Ritchie-Chretien mirror, with a cassegrain arrangement, and operated at f/8. The tube swung only on one side of the modified German mounting, and the floor was raised and lowered so that the observer could get to the eyepiece (or CCD). It required two people at least for visual observing, one to operate the controls, and one to observe. If one observer tried to do both (which was possible) his eyes would lose their dark-adaptation because lights were required to operate the control panel. Tom Cragg and John Shobbrook provided much of this support, although other amateurs were introduced to it as time passed.

Earlier in 1994, Elaine and I had been to the Queensland Star Party at Duckadang, and had met a teenage student named Samantha Beaman. Sam became an enthusiastic part of the 40 inch observing team, whenever she could afford to travel down from Brisbane.


Quite early in the year, Reiki Kushida found a bright supernova, SN 1995D in NGC 2962, and an Italian amateur, Alessandro Gabrijelcic, SN 1995E in NGC 2441. Wayne Johnson of California found SN 1995J in NGC 4512. Toward the end of the year, Stefano Pesci and Piero Mazza found visually SN 1995al in NGC 3021. These amateur finds were slowly becoming CCD discoveries instead of visual ones on a more regular basis.

The Forty Inch Search in 1995

By mid-February we had the first discovery with the 40 inch telescope. This was SN 1995G in NGC 1643. It proved to be a type 2 supernova. It was faint enough so that I could just see it with high magnification using the 16 inch backyard telescope, because I knew where to look for it.

NGC 1643 was not familiar to me, but we looked at it with the 40 inch, as we did with many galaxies because the 40 inch had the extra light gathering power. I noted that a star appeared just north of the nucleus. At the time I did not have a photograph of this galaxy.

During the next day I checked this out at the U.K.Schmidt. There were several films of this field in the Survey room. One or two were over-exposed at the site where this star was visible, but one of the Surveys was less dense at that point, and I could clearly see that no star was normally present.

Paul Cass was observing with the Schmidt that night. He exposed a film of the field early in the evening, and developed it immediately, while other longer exposures were going on. By 1 am the film had dried, and we had photographic confirmation of our discovery. So we were able to send a message to the Central Bureau about it. John and Samantha enjoyed the excitement, and eventually received A.A.V.S.O. awards as a result of it.

Later in the year we found SN 1995V with the 40 inch in the equatorial galaxy NGC 1087. It was also type 2.

This star was found about 3 am. Tom Cragg had gone to sleep on a couch in a back room after either observing or operating the telescope for the first part of the night, and John Jarman and I had taken over. Upon finding the new star, we woke Tom, and went across to the 2.3 metre Advanced Technology Telescope, only a hundred metres away, where Drs Mike Dopita and C. Trung Hua were imaging objects with a CCD. They took an image of NGC 1087, compared it with our reference pictures, measured the offsets of the new star by counting the pixels, and provided us with print-out pictures. In this way we had verification to report to the Central Bureau.

As mentioned, the nights we had for observing were scattered unevenly through the period. In 1995, we had a total of 52 nights. In those, there were 495 possible hours of observing, of which 207 hours were satisfactory for observing, plus 28 which were very poor. In that time, 5,223 observations were made of various galaxies. This averaged 25 observations per hour.

The limit of faintness which was visible to us varied greatly. Tom saw the variable star, SU Tauri, at magnitude 17.3, when it was only at 30 degrees elevation above the horizon. Overhead that night, we would have seen things somewhat fainter. That was probably a fairly good night.

On a very few nights the seeing was superb. On those nights our limit to what was visible might have approached magnitude 18

As mentioned, we had two discoveries during the year, as part of this search, and saw four other supernovae which had been found by others, or with the 16 inch.

The Backyard Search

During this time, the backyard 16 inch search served the purpose of filling in holes in the surveying of galaxies which could not be provided by the 40 inch search, either because we did not have enough nights for all the observing we wanted to do, or because of bad weather or limitations because of moonlight

Later that year, I made a discovery from the backyard at the Coonabarabran church residence with my 16 inch telescope. It was the first discovery I had made with this telescope for over two years. This was SN 1995ad in the galaxy NGC 2139 in the constellation of Lepus.

On the morning of September 29th (local time) I did not set the alarm clock, although I hoped to do at least a little observing. When I awoke there was only 50 minutes left before first light, and it took 10 minutes to get dressed, and to get the telescope out of the shed on to the observing pad in the back lawn.

I started observing galaxies in Canis Major, and lost a bit of time because there were several objects that I could not find quickly. With ten minutes to go before first light I looked at NGC 2139, and noticed a new star on the western side of the galaxy.

My brain was not functioning so well, and it took several fractions to dawn upon me that it was in fact a new object, and that I was not seeing imaginary things. The star seemed brighter that magnitude 15, and was 25 seconds west, and 5 seconds south.

Because such a short time was left before first light, I kept on looking at other galaxies. Even so, I only logged 18 galaxies in the 40 minutes of observing. It was already light by the time I checked with my reference pictures, so I could not get verification locally. So I followed a path which is NOT recommended. I rang the Central Bureau to tell them what I had, and that I hoped somehow to get verification within 24 hours. Seeing that I was confident about the new object, Dr. Brian Marsden offered to contact some of the astronomers whom he knew would be interested.

As a result, within 12 hours, Dr. Stefano Benetti had made spectra of the supernova at the European Southern Observatory, showing that it was of type 2 around maximum. The next evening Rob McNaught got a CCD picture with the 40 inch telescope, and measured an exact position and offsets through increasing cloud. No observing was possible for the next four nights at Coonabarabran.

The backyard telescope was used to make 8,495 observations of various galaxies during the year, in 163 hours of searching. This made an average 52.11 observations per hour.

The Search with Specially Taken U. K. Schmidt Films

In the second half of 1995, a new arrangement was developed with Dr. Brian Schmidt, Rob McNaught and the U. K. Schmidt staff. About six fields were chosen, scattered across the sky, so the several of them would be available in the sky at any time. Three or four films would be taken every few weeks, depending upon the weather and upon other demands upon the telescope. These were searched for supernovae, either by Rob or me. Brian Schmidt would do the follow-up work on any supernovae that might be found. The idea was that by taking repeated films of the same field, any supernova found (after the first film) would be found before or around maximum light.

As noted elsewhere, for a type 1a supernova to be useful in the study of very distant objects, maximum light needs to be observed, and the few weeks after maximum. So the films were exposed in such a way as to increase the chances of finding supernovae which were known to be pre-maximum before they were studied in detail. They were not keen to use large telescope observing time on a supernova if it might turn out to be well past maximum, and therefore useless for the purposes of their study project.

Late in 1995, Rob found one supernova in the first film taken of one of our fields. This was SN 1995U in the galaxy ESO 235 ig 13. It was a type 1 supernova some weeks after maximum.

The Remainder of the Forty Inch Search in 1996 and 1997

The search with the forty inch telescope continued more or less through 1996, until the end of June, 1997, just before we left Coonabarabran. The search was intended as a two-year project from the start. I was away from home from mid-May to mid-July in 1996, when we were enjoying long service leave again, after another 15 years of work, so the search did not proceed during that time. We had three nights near the end of July, in which a discovery was made. After that, we were allocated only two nights in September, and nothing until Christmas Eve, which was also full moon. So the coverage almost did not exist in the second half of the year. It revived in the first half of 1997, although almost none of the right kind of supernovae were around in that period.

The total overall results of this search were, that we were allocated 70 more nights, making a total of 122. About half of the possible hours were lost to the weather, very bad seeing, and extreme moonlight. So, 591 hours were used for observing, in which time 14,829 observations of various galaxies were made and recorded. This made an average rate of 25 galaxies observed per hour.

Three supernovae were found with this telescope. They were all of type 2. Seven other supernovae were observed which had been found elsewhere (including in my backyard). There were two other borderline cases, and one clear instance where a very faint (mag. 16.5) supernova had been missed. I failed to recognise it. It was found several days later by the Perth Observatory group.

Local bank manager John Benton, and Queensland student Samantha Beaman, were observing with me on July 22nd, when, at about 3 am in the morning, we found a supernova in the southern galaxy NGC 7689. (It became SN 1996al.)

By 4 am, when we looked around for verification, we found that the 2.3 metre telescope had been closed down, as the observer had finished his list of objects for the night. Dr. Sean Ryan was observing on the Anglo-Australian Telescope, using an eschelle spectrograph. So he invited us across to the A.A.T. control room, where we watched NGC 7689 appear on the monitor screen. I picked out the supernova, and the spectrograph showed the hydrogen alpha line. It was not a simple narrow line, as a normal star might show, but was spread out over 20 nannometres, as one would expect from a type 2 supernova.

The Backyard Search in 1996

Remembering that this search was used to plug the holes in the forty inch search, 9,361 observations were made with the 16 inch telescope, in 173 hours, averaging 54.1 observations per hour.

One discovery was made as part of this search. This was SN 1996X in the galaxy NGC 5061. It was first seen about 10 o'clock on April 12th. Survey photos showed it was clearly not a normal star. The Berkeley search had come across an asteroid near this galaxy a few years earlier. So I was very careful about this new object, possibly too careful. I watched the star for three hours looking for any movement, and imagined there might be a little - very slight. If I had known better this aspect of astronomy, the discovery could have been reported fifteen hours before it was.

Queensland amateur, Brendan Downs, provided a CCD picture showing the new star. But, fear of possible slight movement stopped me from reporting the discovery, until the next day, when Rob McNaught enlightened me that any asteroid would have moved to a far greater degree than I had imagined. Gordon Garrad checked the discovery the next night, measured the position and offsets, and reported it all to the Central Bureau.

In due course, when the discovery was announced, we learned that Japanese amateur, Kesao Takamizawa, had also discovered the supernova a few hours after I first saw it, by means of taking photographs. He had a part in other discoveries by the same means.

This was a type 1a supernova, found well before maximum light, and situated in the outskirts of the galaxy. Many photos show that the galaxy is elliptical with no outer features, but deeper photos reveal very faint and smooth outer spiral arms or an outer disc. The supernova occurred in this outer disc.

The Search Using U. K. Schmidt Films

This search continued through 1996, and for the early part of 1997. During 1996, I found four supernovae on these films. These were SN 1996A, SN 1996O, SN 1996ad and SN 1996as. They were all supernovae around magnitude seventeen or eighteen. Two of them were found in the Hercules Cluster of galaxies. This cluster had been photographed a number of times. One of these two (SN 1996O) was known to be of type 1a, and the other (SN 1996ad) was of unknown type, but was probably of type 1a also. The other two supernovae were of type 2.

I also found a new comet on one of the films, which became known as Comet Evans Drinkwater. (Dr. Michael Drinkwater had taken the photograph).


As mentioned, Elaine and I moved away from Coonabarabran around the middle of this year. Naturally, at that point, the forty inch search came to an end. The U.K.Schmidt search had also ended, because the telescope was being prepared for other types of observing. It would no longer be used mainly for taking photographs.

The backyard search continued, using the 16 inch telescope while we were still living at Coonabarabran. We moved into our own new villa at Hazelbrook. At this villa, the 16 inch telescope could not be used, and a 12 inch telescope which I had purchased a few years earlier came into regular use. The larger telescope was housed for a while at Linden Observatory, and was used there intermittently. Later, it was moved to a small farm property, owned by Steve Quirk and his wife, some kilometres north of the town of Mudgee.

In 1997, the varied forms of my backyard search realised 8,099 observations of various galaxies, in a total of 135 hours of observing. This improved my average rate of observations a little to sixty observations per hour.

In this search, another supernova was discovered, from the balcony at the Hazelbrook villa. This was SN 1997bp in the galaxy NGC 4680. On this occasion, it was Brisbane amateur, Peter Marples, who verified my discovery visually, and reported it to the Central Bureau. This supernova proved to be of type 1a, and was still approaching maximum brightness at its discovery.

A New Telescope at Linden Observatory

In the later part of 1997, Darryl Browne and I, the two trustees of Linden Observatory, agreed to invest part of the remaining funds belonging to the estate in buying a large, user-friendly telescope, in order to further the ends for which the Trust existed. So, we ordered the various parts of a new 30 inch telescope, from various manufacturers in the United States. It would probably become the largest public-access telescope in Australia, and would provide the centre-piece for the Observatory's activities. This telescope duly arrived in Linden, in a large crate, on Friday, 26th September, 1997.

It could not be assembled and used immediately, because we did not have Council permission to erect any new permanent buildings, or to use the property for public educational purposes. We had to go through a long, complicated and expensive proceedure, as required by State Government and Local Council regulations, before such small thing as a shelter for the new telescope could be built. After several years, this proceedure cost the Trust so much money that we ran out of funds, and had to take steps to sell some more land that the Trust owned, in order to refinance ourselves, and complete the project.

The shelter for the new telescope was not completed until 2002, and, as a result, the new telescope could not be used before that date. It sat idly in one of the sheds all that time.

1998 - Retirement, and Other Projects

Since leaving the Warrumbungles Parish in July, 1997, I had been unemployed, so far as parish work was concerned. Like in many other areas of work, once a minister is over sixty years of age, parishes normally do not want to engage such an "aged" person as minister. As in many other jobs, a person who was forty years old, but with thirty years of experience, and with a family of children, would be much preferred.

This enforced inactivity created the opportunity for me to start doing what I had planned to do in retirement. I had slowly built up, over many years, a reference library about evangelical movements around the world. Of course, it has been even further improved since 1997, so that it is one of the best private collections of materials on this subject in the world. Its qualities surpass the holdings of many theological libraries, and university libraries, in this special subject area. I believed that it would be wrong to possess such a resource without using it. So, for some years I had the plan to do research with this library when I retired. I had already done a little in the years before, but found it too difficult to combine work and research with any real success.

By the end of 1997, therefore, I began researching the subject of the story of evangelical revivals in Australia. The story of these movements had never been fully set out previously. The task of writing a book about this subject slowly got under way.

Within two weeks of starting this project, in a most unexpected and dramatic manner, my financial situation was revolutionised. The coming together of these strands seemed to me to be some form of Divine guidance. As these events worked themselves out, it became possible for me to retire, and to spend more time in historical research.

Although I was only 61 years of age, I formally retired from ministerial responsibilities on the 1st May, 1998, which was the first day that I could financially afford to do so.

About this time near the middle of 1998, I also changed from research on Australian history to the writing of a book about evangelical movements in New Zealand. This was not because I knew anything about New Zealand Church History, but because I joined forces with Roy McKenzie, a retired Kiwi Presbyterian minister who was keen to do historical work in that area. Together we produced a book of about 370 pages called "Evangelical Revivals in New Zealand.," which saw the light of day about a year later. After I had finished writing the New Zealand book, I returned to the Australian project. My 550 page book "Early Evangelical Revivals in Australia" was finally published privately about Christmas, 2000.

Astronomy During This Period

My backyard supernova searching tended to take more of a back seat during this period. In addition, there was now very substantial competition from several very capable and very effective fully automatic search projects, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. The telescope I had at home for regular use was a 12 inch reflector, which, though adequate and easy to use, and having a high-quality mirror, was not as powerful as I would have liked. The observing site on the villa balcony suffered from obstructions which meant that only fifty percent of the sky could be seen.

Occasionally I used the 16 inch telescope, or used someone else's telescope in another location.

In 1998, I made 8,541 observations in 138 hours of observing, at an average of 62 observations per hour. I saw several supernovae found by others, but did not find any myself.

In 1999, I made 4.885 observations in 80 hours of observing, at an average of 61 observations per hour. Again, I saw several supernovae found by others, but did not discover any myself.

One particular honour which came my way in 1999 occurred as a result of the fact that the University of Western Sydney moved to host the Annual Meeting of the Astronomical Society of Australia. Each year the A.S.A. holds a public meeting called the Harley Wood Memorial Lecture, and the chief organiser for that year, Professor Graeme White, asked me to deliver it. I could think of a number of people better qualified to do this then me, but he said that it was preferred someone local to the host campus should give the address. I had no illusions about the ability of my name to attract the public. I hardly expected anyone extra, apart from some of the AGM participants, and I think this is what happened. However, it was a great honour, and one which I appreciated greatly. It gave me an opportunity also to reflect upon the history of supernova hunting, and provided the first chance for me to collect some of the details which now form part of this book.

In the year 2000, I made 5,171 observations, in 91 hours of observing, at an average of 56.8 observations per hour. Apart from seeing several supernovae that had been found by others, that year I found SN 2000cj in the southern galaxy NGC 6753.

It was found from the villa balcony on May 14.7UT. Peter Marples was able to verify it quickly, and made the initial report of details to the Central Bureau. The next evening, CCD images were made by Renato Langersek, who is a member of the same club in Brisbane as Peter, and also by Ted Dobosz, who is one of the amateurs who visits Linden Observatory regularly and observes from there. These images were measured by Rob McNaught and by Dr. Graeme White respectively, and their details were in due course published with the announcement of the discovery. It was a type 1a supernova, and was found shortly before maximum brightness.

At Linden Observatory, amateur astronomer Brett White had found two supernovae visually in the southern galaxy NGC 6754. These were SN 1998dq and SN 2000do. Both were type 1a supernovae. Strangely, the Perth Automatic Search had found a fainter type 2 supernova in this galaxy earlier in 1998. This was SN 1998X. Brett had become a keen visual supernova hunter, and was steadily widening the range of galaxies in his observing agenda.

He would hopefully be able to make good use of the 30 inch telescope for supernova hunting, when it at last became productive.


This year began to see a modest resurgence in my observing programme, at least toward the end of the year. This was partly caused by the preparations that went into the task of writing most of this book, which I wrote about that time. Another factor was that the Linden 30 inch telescope was soon to be in use, and this would provide another opportunity to search for supernovae with a larger telescope. However, the later part of the year was also marked by the discovery of two supernovae. These factors stirred my interest again.

The total for the year was that I made 6,181 observations of various galaxies, in 119 hours, at an average of 51.9 observations per hour.

The first of these discoveries was in the famous barred spiral galaxy in Fornax, NGC 1365. It will be remembered that the first supernova to be found in this galaxy was SN 1957C. It was found by H. S. Gates, Zwicky's assistant, with the 18 inch Schmidt. No spectra were taken, and the star's type was not known. Maximum light was probably not observed.

The second in this galaxy was SN 1983V, found with my ten inch telescope just before maximum light. It was eventually recognised as being of type 1c.

The third supernova in this galaxy was SN 2001du, and was found from our villa balcony with the 12 inch telescope on August 24th. It was found about two hours before first light. Peter Marples and Greg Bock provided the CCD confirmation. Greg's software was now able to produce a fairly good exact position simply by using the cursor. They were able to report a confirmed discovery, with adequate information, to the Central Bureau within a few hours of first sighting of the new supernova. Spectra showed that it was a type 2 supernova, of the "plateau" variety, and so would be visible at around fifteenth magnitude for three months.

Some astronomers were keen to compare the position of this supernova with stars on archival Hubble Space Telescope pictures of this galaxy. Parts of it had been studied in detail for the Hubble Key Project. Others wanted to use the Baade - Wesselink method to derive a distance for the galaxy, so that it could be compared with the distance derived through the Key Project.

The second discovery was SN 2001ig, which appeared in the spiral galaxy NGC 7424. From the balcony, the surrounding trees and buildings impose severe resrtictions upon how much of the sky can be seen. Part of this was that I could not see the western sky much. I had not tried hard to overcome this problem, and had tended to ignore southern galaxies after they had passed more than forty degrees past the zenith. Trees stopped me seeing northern galaxies much past the zenith at all. In any case, galaxies which are low in the west in the early evening will not be visible for long, and any supernovae which might be found in them cannot be studied for long before they disappear behind the sun.

So, it was a little unusual that, on December 10th, I should take the trouble to follow the galaxies in the constellation of Grus as they declined in the west in the summer evenings. I moved my telescope up to the other end of the balcony to get a better view, instead of being obstructed by the roof in my normal spot. I worked through about a dozen of these galaxies, until I came to NGC 7424. Immediately, a new star was obvious which changed the star pattern radically. It was fairly faint, at magnitude 14.5. I got out Gregg Thompson's chart of the galaxy, and measured the offsets as well as I could with a millimetre rule. Then I tried to find confirmation.

On this occasion, I rang Colin Bembrick out near the town of Bathurst, at Napoleon Reefs. After finishing a current observation, he was able to take a CCD picture. Efforts to measure it more accurately took a day or two.

Also I sent an email to Nick Suntzeff, one of the professional astronomers who was working on supernovae at the Cerro Tololo Observatory in Chile. He was able to start observing it immediately. However, various factors conspired somehow, and the discovery was not actually announced for several days. The supernova continued to increase in brightness as the days, and weeks, passed.

It reached maximum light three weeks later, on December 31st, at magnitude 12.4, which made it the second brightest supernova of the year, missing out on being the brightest only by a small fraction.

It was classed as a type 2b. This was a class which, by then, had been recognised as a variety of supernova which started off looking like a type 2, but finishing up as a type 1c. The Cerro Tololo astronomers studied it as well and as long as they could, considering the rate at which it was disappearing behind the sun in the west.

Further Research on SN 2001ig

Visually, this supernova was no longer observable after mid-January until this part of the sky became visible in the east before dawn several months later.

A long series of radio observations of this supernova, however, was begun by Anglo-Australian Observatory astronomer, Dr. Stuart Ryder, who assembled also relevant observations from various collaborators. Many of these observations were made with the Australia Telescope Array near Narrabri, in New South Wales, and were carried on for several years. The supernova was discovered to have a peculiar radio curve related to the visual light curve, but having several peaks as the radio curve declined. These peaks in the radio curve were believed to be the result of the supernova being a star which had belonged to a double Wolf-Rayet system. Both of these enormous stars had rotated around each other once in about a year of our time. When one of the two stars exploded, the other star produced a spiralling effect upon the radio emission coming from the supernova remnant. Eventually, observations were made with the Hubble Space Telescope, and with the southern Gemini eight-metre telescope, to identify and to observe the remaining star, and then to get its spectrum, in order to show that the remaining star was indeed a Wolf-Rayet star.


Although I observed SN 2001ig until mid-January, and a few times several months later in the year, I did not discover any other supernovae in 2002. I did, however, observe four other supernovae which were found first by others. This, of course, represented the strength of the competition which now existed in finding the brighter supernovae. If I had only had to cope with the competition which existed twenty years earlier, I might have discovered one or two of these myself.

In 2002 I made 8,576 observations of various galaxies during 149 hours of observing. This represented an average of 57.56 observations per hour throughout that period.


This year began very well. On my first visit to Steve Quirk's place, on January 5th, I found a faint supernova in NGC 1097, not far from the little satellite galaxy NGC 1097A. I was using my 41cm telescope at Steve's place, and this was the first SN to be found with this telescope for seven years. After a whole year without a discovery, this early breakthrough created a much more relaxed feeling as I faced the rest of the year. Steve verified this object visually, and agreed with me that it did not appear on Gregg Thompson's chart or on the ESO "B" photo of the galaxy. After several hours of observing this, an email was sent to the Central Bureau, and a phone call was also made to Colin Bembrick seeking a CCD image of the area, and an estimation of the exact position of the SN.

Dan Green passed the message on quickly, and verification came quickly from professional astronomers using spectrographs on large telescopes. The supernova was announced as SN 2003B, and was a type 2 supernova, found a few weeks after maximum light. Colin Bembrick had a much harder time, however. He took a CCD picture with his telescope. But the only photo of the galaxy that he could get for comparison was from the Deep Sky Survey on the internet. This Survey was made from over-exposed "J" photographs which showed the spot where the supernova appeared as a very bright area, and the list of objects derived from this Survey listed it as a bright star about as bright as I had said that the supernova was. Clearly, the Survey, and the catalogue derived from it was wrong at this point. The faintness of the emission region in which the supernova appeared could be clearly seen in the ESO "B" Survey, and my 35mm photos from this Survey showed that very well.

Through the southern winter months of June, July and August, I found three more supernovae. The first of these was SN 2003gd in the famous northern galaxy, Messier 74, (also known as NGC 628).

In January, 2002, another supernova had appeared in this galaxy, which had prompted observers to take a series of deep photos of M74 with the Hubble Space Telescope, thus revealing many of the brighter stars in this galaxy. The galaxy is hidden behind the sun through March, April and May. With long winter nights, M74 was beginning to become visible from my home by early June.

On the morning of Thursday, June 12, the bright moon set about 3.45am, and the sky was fully dark by 4am. I observed 148 galaxies before 5.45am when first light interfered with my work. The seeing was very good. There were a couple of galaxies that I wanted to check on the next morning, and I wanted to look at M74 as well, despite the fact that the sky would not be properly dark until 5am, because the bright moon would not set until very late. On the morning, there was some cloud blowing quickly across the sky, the seeing was not so good, and it did not really get properly dark. After viewing a dozen galaxies, I observed M74, and saw a supernova in the southern spiral arm of the galaxy at about magnitude 13.2.

With only about ten minutes before first light there was a struggle to measure where the new star was located in relation to the spiral arms of the galaxy. Local verification was also impossible within 24 hours. I worked out it was about 20 seconds east and 150 seconds south of the galaxy nucleus, based on Gregg Thompson's chart. If I waited 24 hours for a better view, I would not be able even to see the galaxy, because the glare of the full moon would prevent me from seeing it.

I emailed Dan Green immediately, saying that this new star was not visible in any of the major atlases which contained photos of this galaxy.

As a result of Dan's general message, Rob McNaught provided an exact position the next morning, using the forty-inch telescope at Siding Spring. Spectroscopy was obtained in the morning twilight using the Vatican Observatory's new telescope in Arizona.

Using Rob's exact position, a furious search began of the archival photos taken the previous year through the Hubble Space Telescope in an attempt to locate and study details of the star before it exploded. This was eventually found to be a red supergiant star, having a certain brightness, which fitted in well with prevailing theories. But it was only the third time a good observation had been made of a star BEFORE it was seen to explode. Several groups became involved in this search.

Actually it was found that the supernova had exploded two months beforehand, when the galaxy was behind the sun. It was a type 2 supernova, of the more normal "plateau" variety. I think that the long southern winter nights gave me an advantage on this occasion over the northern observers who would normally have been expected to find this star. After about six weeks I could no longer see the supernova, because it had been found quite close to the end of its "plateau" phase.

SN 2003gs was also an early morning discovery. On the morning of Wednesday, 30th July, I observed from 4.25am to 5.10am, covering 60 galaxies in that time. NGC 936 revealed a new star of magnitude 14.0, just south-east of the nucleus. The brightness of the new star was judged against a star on Gregg Thompson's chart of NGC 936, which had been measured at magnitude 13.7. Again, because the discovery occurred so close to first light, no local verification could be arranged. So, I emailed several of the professional astronomers, Colin Bembrick, and Dan Green at the Central Bureau.

The following morning, between 4.30am and 5.20am, I observed 66 galaxies, plus the new star in NGC 936, which had now brightened a little to magnitude 13.8. The following night the new star was at magnitude 13.6 or 13.5. By the next morning (Saturday) it had risen again to magnitude 13.4. Because of cloud it was harder to observe over the next few nights, but it seemed to remain at the same brightness for only the Saturday and Sunday mornings before it started to decline. By Wednesday morning it seemed to have declined to magnitude 13.7, and to magnitude 13.8 or 13.9 by the Thursday morning. By Saturday morning it was at about magnitude 14.0.

Some cloudy weather interfered with my observing for some days after that, and the full moon followed, and then more cloud. My next opportunity to observe NGC 936 on the morning of Tuesday, 26th August, but the supernova had disappeared completely.

Professional astronomers took a marvellous photo of this supernova. It was found to be a type 1a supernova of the peculiar kind which is fainter than normal, and which vanishes very quickly, which I found out the hard way. It was quite an unusual kind of supernova.

But the morning of Tuesday, 26th August, revealed another bright supernova. SN 2003hn was found in NGC 1448. The find was made about 2.30 in the morning, and a phone call to Greg Bock, south of Brisbane, Queensland, led to its verification with Greg's CCD equipment, and the discovery was reported to the Central Bureau. This turned out to be another type 2 supernova of the "plateau" variety, and so was visible at about magnitude 14.0 for two months.

I also observed SN 2003hv in NGC 1201. This was a very bright type 1a supernova which appeared very soon after the supernova in NGC 1448, but which I missed because NGC 1201 was not on my list of regular galaxies to the same extent as the others were. I observed it at times, but apparently not often enough.

2003 had been a very exciting and successful year. I made 10,194 galaxy observations during 174 hours of observing. Thus galaxies were observed at the average rate of 58.6 per hour through the year.

A very high point for me, in April, 2003, was being able to attend the I.A.U. Symposium on Supernovae, which was organised in Valencia, Spain, to mark the tenth anniversary of the visual discovery of SN 1993J in Messier 81 by the Spanish amateur, Francisco Garcia. It was a great opportunity to catch up on the latest research on supernovae, and to meet many of the leading professional astronomers in the field. I also caught up with several of the Spanish amateur supernova observers, including Francisco of course, and also several I had met some years beforehand.

Another side issue in 2003 was that during the early part of the year Bill Bryson's best seller, "A Short History of Nearly Everything" was published, which contained a section about my observing. This was Bryson's effort to understand some of the deeper things about the history of science, about the geological story of the history of the earth, and about some of the characters who had figured in the efforts by scientists to understand it all. Because the book spread so widely, it naturally provided me a new degree of fame, more than I had before, and led to some new contacts with people who tried to make a contact with me after they had read the book.

2004 and 2005

In contrast to the successes of 2003, I did not see even one supernova in all of 2004. It was not for lack of trying. I made 7,458 observations of various galaxies over a period of 91 hours and 20 minutes. This represented an average of 81.7 galaxy observations per hour. Even the supernovae found by other observers during the year did not come into the orbit of what I could observe.

In 2005, one discovery was made with the 31cm telescope at home. This was my fortieth visual discovery, and the third that I had found in NGC 1559. SN 2005df was another discovery made just before dawn. It was found on the morning of Friday, 5th August at magnitude 13.8. Over the next ten days it increased in brightness slowly until its maximum brightness was magnitude 12.4. Within a day or two of discovery, a team of professional astronomers at the European Southern Observatory used one of their eight-metre telescopes to see whether the explosion in this supernova had occurred in the centre of the star or off-centre. They also took a wonderful picture of the galaxy, showing the supernova about one magnitude before maximum light. It was a type 1a supernova, but with certain modest peculiar features.

It this stage of my observing career, there were three galaxies in which I had found more than one supernova. These galaxies were NGC 1365, NGC 1448 and NGC 1559. I had known for some time that there were several other astronomers who had found two supernovae in the same galaxy. Fritz Zwicky had, I think, six galaxies in his list of discoveries in which he had found two supernovae. One or two of the early photographic searchers also had a few galaxies where they had double successes. But, at least until the advent of the fully automatic searches, nobody had ever found three supernovae in the same galaxy, so far as I was aware. So, finding this third supernova in NGC 1559 gave me great satisfaction, particularly because all of these finds had been visual discoveries.

Overall, in 2005, I made 6,814 galaxy observations during 107 hours and thirty minutes of observing, thus averaging 63.39 galaxy observations per hour of that time.

The Future

Naturally, I do not know what the future holds, so far as my observing career is concerned. Despite the yearly figures which indicate how much I have been doing, I am not spending as much effort or time doing this observing as I had done in years gone by. As I approach my seventieth birthday, I do not have the stamina for it like it did in previous years. However, it has been a great hobby, which has given me a lot of pleasure, enabled me to meet many wonderful and gifted people, and given me valuable insights into the majesty of God's creation. I hope I can do at least some more of it for years to come.