Saturday, October 29, 2005

Visual Nova Hunting: An Opinion

The included quote at the end of this post is from a recently published article called ‘Observing Variable Stars, Novae and Supernovae’ by Gerald North published in 2004.

The sentiment expressed by Gerald North is probably commonly felt by most amateur astronomers. [See 9.8 Nova Hunting below.]

The reason I started a visual nova hunting program is to learn as much about the night sky as possible. Studying the Milky Way, which is where most novae occur, is not a bad way to get acquainted. It is also a good way to start up a variable star program which I've been interested in for quite awhile.

The one advantage the visual nova hunter has is the ability to see a nova in real time where the automated patrols, if they rely on delayed processing, will have to wait while the visual hunter has a chance of reporting the find before the outburst is noticed by others.

I don't seriously expect to find a nova in my lifetime due to automated patrols but since I'm having a good time trying I will continue the activity. I think my chances of finding a nova are still somewhat better than hitting the lottery! ;-D

9.8 Nova Hunting

This is a book about observing already known objects with a view to following their brightness changes, not a book about hunting down new examples. However, you are certainly not alone if you hanker to discover new objects yourself - but I must offer a warning. Increasingly professional programs of automated sky-searching are mopping up the new objects to be seen in the heavens. In addition a few highly motivated (and usually very expensively equipped) amateurs are vigorously doing the same. Discovering a genuinely new comet, asteroid, variable star, nova, or supernova from your own backyard is now very much harder to do than it used to be despite modern technology. It is now only fractionally short of 100 per cent certain that someone else will have seen and recorded that new object before you.

If you really are determined to become a nova hunter, then to have even the slightest chance of success you must devote yourself to that task almost entirely. You will have precious little time or energy left for other lines of observational astronomy. If you choose that route, then this is not the book to help you. I do cover nova hunting amongst other subjects in my book Advanced Amateur Astronomy, which was published in its second edition by Cambridge University Press in 1997. The one caveat I would warn you about is that in 1996 (when I wrote that edition) it was still reasonable for hunters to use entirely visual means and a pair of good binoculars to do their hunting. While the chances of success will never quite fall to zero using that method, they cannot be very much above that by now.

Question: How many visual nova hunters are active these days?


Tag said...


Only wish you the best of luck in your searches. And if Zeus finds it in himself to grant you a discovery, it will be a product of assiduous planning and execution than a gratuitous chance winning.


Tom said...

That pretty much sums it up. I put you in my blog roll.