3 mins read 04 May 2022

Backyard Astronomers Win Professional Recognition

Two amateur astronomy groups have been awarded the 2022 Page Medal at the National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers held online.  

Image of Saturn taken by Trevor Barry. Credit: Astronomical Society of Australia

An ex-miner from Broken Hill and a group of six mates have been jointly awarded the 2022 Page Medal by the Astronomical Society of Australia. The award was presented at the National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers, held online.

Trevor Barry, a former mine worker, found a white spot on Saturn which turned out to be an electrical storm. This storm went on for seven months, making it the longest-lived storm ever recorded on Saturn.

“The CASSINI spacecraft orbiting Saturn couldn’t image the storm on a day-to-day basis, due to its orbit and other priorities. I could,” said Mr Barry.

Mr Barry continues to provide storm data about Saturn, as well as Jupiter and Mars to NASA and others. He also says that he’ll keep watching Saturn as long as he’s alive.

“I’m waiting for the next big thing to happen because Saturn can be a bit staid. It’s not rambunctious like Jupiter,” said Mr Barry.

“I’m so honoured by this award. It's the highest honour that the peak professional body in Australia can bestow on an amateur. It’s humbling to me”.    

Trevor Barry at Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Credit: Astronomical Society of Australia.

The group of six friends who make up The Backyard Observatory Supernova Search (BOSS) Team have been observing distant galaxies to detect supernovae. The team then alerts professional telescopes, so that they can observe the action and study these phenomena at the crucial moment. Supernovae are responsible for many of the elements necessary for planets such as Earth to form and life to exist on them. The BOSS team makes their observations from backyards in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, and from a dairy farm near Christchurch, New Zealand. 

“We’ve discovered about 200 confirmed supernovae over the years,” said BOSS member Greg Bock.  

Greg Bock with his Meade 14LX200R telescope. Credit: Astronomical Society of Australia.

The Page Medal is awarded every two years to recognise scientific contributions by amateurs that advance the field of astronomy. It was established in honour of Bernice and Arthur Page, a husband and wife duo who were pioneers of amateur astronomy in Australia as well as foundation members of the Astronomical Society of Australia.

ASA President Professor John Lattanzio said that this year’s winners demonstrate the scientific value of amateurs who can continuously observe their targets.   

“Professional telescopes have their time fully allocated, plotted minute by minute, months in advance. Whereas these dedicated and highly skilled amateurs can monitor their targets on the chance something interesting happens - and that’s where the value lies,” said Professor Lattanzio.

“The winners are truly outstanding and well-deserving, and it was impossible to differentiate between their contributions to the advancement of astronomy. Hence, the decision to make two awards for the first time in the prize history”.