Northamptonshire Natural History Society

Astronomy Section

Section President
Nick Hewitt
Section Secretary
James Whinfrey

Comet Panther 1980u

Discovered by Northamptonshire Natural History Society member Roy Panther

The Hourglass Nebula taken by the Hubble Space Telescope

1981 January 4 1806 : 16-inch f/5, Tri-X, 1m. (Photograph by Ron Arbour )

After 33 years of searching for comets, Roy Panther finally discovered a comet on Christmas Day 1980.  At that time he did not have a telephone, so to announce his discovery he sent a written message via taxi from his home at Walgrave to Guy Hurst at Wellingborough.

The Hourglass Nebula taken by the Hubble Space Telescope

Roy Panther with his 8-inch 'old discoverer'

The Hourglass Nebula taken by the Hubble Space Telescope

BAA Vice-President Leslie White presents the Merlin Medal to Roy Panther (Photograph by Ron Arbour)

Extract from the "Journal of the British Astronomical Association," 91(3), 211 (1981)

'Mr Panther said that although it was Christmas night, he felt it impossible to ignore an exceptionally clear sky. He carried out his usual practice of sweeping the sky with his 8-inch f/4 reflector with x35 magnification. He located M56 easily, and was impressed with its brilliance. A few minutes later he noticed a 'fainter M56' about 5 minutes of arc across. He checked and could find no record of any object in that position.'

'He rang Mr [Michael] Hendrie, who took a photograph of the region. Mr [George] Alcock confirmed the existence of the comet. After checking and rechecking by Mr [Harold] Ridley, news of the discovery was cabled to the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory by Mr [Stanley] Milbourn. Mr Panther then showed two photographs of the comet taken by Mr [Brian] Manning of Kidderminster.'

'To put the discovery into perspective, Mr Panther said that he had been comet sweeping for 33 years. He had clocked up 600 hours spread over 699 nights. During that time he had kept records of telescopic meteors, and he said he was still impressed by the marvellous star-fields. In reply to a question, Mr Panther said the object was about magnitude 8.5 when discovered. He said that the comet was travelling northwards, and should be visible for about three months.'

'The President then thanked Mr Panther again. The tremendous applause reflected the members' appreciation of an outstanding contribution... Mr [Michael] Hendrie discussed the orbit of Comet Panther, commenting that it was 1.6 AU from the Sun at perihelion.'

Comet Panther passed between Polaris and the north celestial pole; but the discoverer will never again see it, as it has a period of about 30,000 years. Subsequent changes in comet nomenclature resulted in Comet Panther 1980u being redesignated 1980 Y2 and 1981 II.

Image credits: Stellarium (background image)

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26 May 2014 (v 22)

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