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Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) pictured

in 2015 by Gerard Rhemann

Halley in 1986, A.Fujii

Bennett in 1970, A.Fujii


Trying to discover new comets as well as following the evolution of periodic comets can produce results useful to scientists. The best proof is that when you publish an advertising about amateur research in magazines, the first professionals to answer are professional astronomers whose specialization is aeronomy and comets study.

Like meteors and many meteorites, which are nothing else than dusts released by comets during their approach to the Sun, professionals need to know where they come from and what are their internal composition. From these values astronomers can try to define a more detailed model of the early ages of the solar system and try to explain the exact nature of the protosolar nebula.

Halley comet in 1983 pictured by David Healy

Better than simply follow their moves naked eye, amateurs equipped with a medium telescope and some drawing tools can easily track their internal structure and possible changes.

You can for example look for irregularities or splitting in comets tails due to a polarization change in the solar magnetic field, discover a nucleus breaks due to a great sensitivity to heat or to gravitational fields near Jupiter (SL9) or find unusual brightening at great distances from the Sun where its radiance should not interact with the superficial icy crust of the comet.

There are many things to say about "sleeping comets". Asteroid 4015 for example was discovered in 1979 at Palomar, 30 years after the observation of comet Wilson-Harrington. Simulation of its past trajectories allowed astronomers to compute its position in 1949 and to retrieve it under the aspect of a comet.

The coming of a comet is always a gift from mother Nature. Like Halley ten years earlier, in 1996 comet Hyakutake grazed the Earth at 15 millions km away and exhibit a dusty tail 20 millions km long which spread over 70° in the sky ! A great moment of pleasure that mother Nature regularly offers to our view.


AMS Comet section

ULYSSES Comet Watch


 CNRS Observatoire de Paris

PIXY software



A bolid from Leonides 

recorded on Nov 18, 1999

A Perseid of 1999 shower

A Leonid's smoke on Nov 17, 98




I hope one day you will observe a bright meteor. Nothing is most easy as you can do it naked eye, without telescope ! Take with you a lounge chair, optionally a sleeping bag, hot coffee or thee, gloves and your parka. Voilą, it seems that you are organized to capture all meteors firing over your head. Not really...

The meteor hunter who hardly wants participating in an international observer network cannot simply go out and watch the Perseids in August and go sleep a few hours later. Your task consists to go out every time you can to watch as many meteors as possible, including showers known to perform poorly (small ZHR). You also need a tape recorder and have to follow a strict procedure in order your observations be comparable to other observers's reports and vice versa. 

Once ready, your local section manager will assign you a quadrant or chunks to survey. In that area you should note for each meteor its time of apparition, location, direction, duration, characteristics, etc. This is a  dedicated task asking patience and attention to details. Otherwise your observation is useless except if you consider its poetry and artistic value.

The simple report of their accurate trajectories and parameters are enough to conduct a scientific program. The rest is affair of geometrical transformations from one coordinate system in another.

Another way to survey the meteors activity is participating in an all-sky photographical survey. Your equipment is either one or more cameras using fast film and wide-angle objectives on which are fixed a rotative shutter or a simple videocam filming a convex mirror from above. In this latter case, the rotative shutter is useless. This way you could estimate both the speed of meteors and their evolution along their trajectories, including their color and occasional smokes when disappearing as you can see on the animation at left.

Major associations will assign you a specific quadrant of the sky to ensure a continuous watch and systematic coverage of the sky around the world. In some occasions you can be the only person in the world scrutating the sky!

At last you have the opportunity to study the meteors spectrum and searching for the "green auroral" line, an emission line from the O I at 5577 Å that appeasr somewhere around 100 km high and rarely recorded.

Agreat part of the actual research on meteors is defining the origin of theses particles. Roughly told we can split them in two main groups :

- The one of cometary origin, most of them having a large orbital inclination;

- The one of asteroidian origin with a small orbital inclination. Many bright bolids own to this last group.

Since 1982, IAU has organized at Lund Observatory in Sweden an international centre in charge to observe meteors and analyze reports. These professionals accept also observations from the amateurs community.

Major meteors showers


Date of maximum

Number of meteors (ZHR)


4 January



5 May



12 August



22 October



16 November

25 - 1000


13 December


At last, learn how to listen meteors and use their ionization trace to contact radio amateurs by shortwaves.

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