Amateur astronomer makes major astronomical discovery from his office desk

March 24, 2010 | by | 0 Comments

An amateur star-gazer made a ”major astronomical discovery” after he accessed a super-powerful telescope via the internet and spotted a rare comet – while at WORK.

Enterprising Nick Howes, 40, used the web to access an on-line telescope as he sat at his desk in his office.

Nick, who designs musical instruments, logged on to a telescope situated in Hawaii and began staring into deep space.

But he spotted a massive comet breaking up and was able to use the telescope to take photos – despite being thousands of miles away from Hawaii and light years from the comet.

Nick, who works for Yamaha, actually captured the moment the comet exploded blowing a chunk the size of Mount Everest off one side.

He was the only person in the world to capture the dramatic event – with even American astronomers completely missing the opportunity.

The comet is known as Siding Spring after the Australian observatory where it was first spotted in 2009.

It is many times the size of Mount Everest and is travelling at a speeds of 30 km a second – 20 times faster than a bullet.

It is currently in the mid solar system near Saturn and Jupiter – around 175 million km away from Earth.

Nick’s discovery has now been honoured by the International Astronomical Union and hailed by experts as a ”major astronomical discovery”.

Father-of-one Nick, of Cherhill, near Calne, Wilts., said: ”I had heard that a comet was passing so I tried to view it myself and used a telescope in Hawaii to have another look.

”But within about ten minutes I spotted that it was blowing up. It was amazing.

”I contacted the International Astronomical Union and they confirmed I was the only one to make the discovery. I then made lots of frantic phone calls.”

Nick took the images from his office in London using the Faulkes Telescope Project in Hawaii last Thursday.

He used the £5million telescope to capture six images which show a chunk of ice known as a ”dirty snowball” breaking away from the nucleus of the comet.

The following day a second set of images showed the new fragment is still trailing the comet, which is officially called C2007 C3.

The online telescope project is run by experts at Cardiff University who say they are ”delighted” with Nick’s result.

Dr Paul Roche, of Cardiff University, said: ”What this illustrates is what is achievable when amateur astronomers can get their hands on such a powerful telescope.

”As the nucleus of a comet is typically tens of kilometres across, this fragment is probably mountain-sized, and will become a small comet as it gradually separates from its parent.

”We hope this discovery will help encourage others to use the Faulkes Telescopes and lead to even more scientific discoveries.”

Nick has a small observatory himself at his home and has since been tracking the comet’s progress.

It was first spotted in October and is heading away from Earth and will never been seen again.

The comet was first spotted by a woman called Donna Burton – so should have been called Donna’s Comet or Burton’s Comet.

But unfortunately for her on this occasion it was named after the Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarabran Australia.

The Faulkes Telescope Project was launched in March 2004 as a way of helping to inspire school students to study science and maths.

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