Updated: Jun 7
Without exaggeration, we can say that space is vast… so vast, that each year thousands of new discoveries are made and published by NASA, ESA, and other space agencies.
Having an enormous telescope to scan the sky 24/7 certainly helps, but that does not mean that an amateur astronomer like you, or us, cannot make our own discoveries.
In this post we wanted to share what we think are the 5 coolest discoveries made by amateur astronomers and astrophotographers! You also watch our video at the bottom of this page for a more visual list.
1. The Soap Bubble Nebula
Before 2008, no one knew about this small and faint planetary nebula near a much bigger and brighter Crescent Nebula.
This discovery was made by Dave Jurasevich, who randomly found the object when imaging the sky using his 160 mm refractor f/7.7 and a 6nm Hydrogen Alpha filter. Now, hundreds of astrophotographers have captured it for their own collections.
Dave defines this discovery as both "a blessing and a curse", as the excitement quickly transforms into a long, hard, and tireless effort to make the discovery official. It took Dave months to look over every known catalog, amateur photos, forums and even literature to make sure the bubble wasn't previously discovered. After many reports and emails with the IAU, his discovery was made official.
In 2013, 5 years later, the world reference database for the identification of astronomical objects, located in Strasbourg, gave Jurasevich's Soap Bubble Nebula the designation of "Ju1".
2. Comet Lovejoy
Also nicknamed "The Great Comet of Christmas 2011", Comet Lovejoy was a magnificent comet that peaked at magnitude -3, and although very difficult to see with the naked eye, due to its proximity with the sun, it was a beautiful target for astrophotographers.
Comet Lovejoy was named after its discoverer, Terry Lovejoy, from Australia.
Interestingly, this was Terry's third comet discovery at the time. As of today, he has discovered 17 comets, and counting! The two first ones were spotted when imaging the sky with DSLR cameras, while his most famous one, Comet Lovejoy, was found using a 7.9" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and a CCD camera.
Comet Lovejoy's next expected appearance will be in the year 2633… Keep your cameras ready!
3. MUL 1
Inspired by the image of the Necklace Nebula made by the Hubble Space Telescope, Lionel Mulato decided to give the tiny object a try with his own amateur equipment. Sadly, no details could be seen using a telescope with 816mm of focal length. However, something else appeared in his image. Something small, blurry, and not familiar at all… (can be seen on the left side of the above image).
Lionel described it as "a little ball of Hydrogen Alpha" that was visible on his camera after a 20 min exposure with a filter.
Excited but afraid that it could be an artefact, Lionel imaged the area again the next day, and once again saw what seemed to be an unknown deep sky object. Mulato contacted a planetary nebula expert at the Observatory of Strasbourg to ask if it was a new discovery, and the expert confirmed! It was named it Mul 1.
The object is not thought to be a planetary nebula, but instead a Strömgren sphere, meaning ionized gas around a very hot star. An example of a famous Strömgren sphere is the Rosette Nebula.
4. 2012 Jupiter Meteor Impact
While observing Jupiter on September 10, 2012, Dan Petersen sees what looks like a fuzzy ball colliding with the planet. Not sure if this was just a figment of his imagination, Dan asks other astronomers on a forum about the strange phenomena, hoping he was not the only one to spot this. Not only did he get a confirmation that someone else had seen it, he also received a video!
George Hall is a keen photographer of Jupiter. He absolutely loves taking pictures of the solar system's largest gas giant. He reviewed his files from that night, where he used a 12" telescope and a monochrome camera to capture video.
George received so many e-mails from the scientific community that night, inquiring for the accuracy of the time stamp, the image acquisitions, and a copy of the raw file for deeper study. During the week, he also got hundreds of calls from magazines, news channels, and blogs from all over the world.
Today, George keeps doing what he does best! Photographing, and keeping a close look on his favorite gas giant, Jupiter.
5. The Giant Squid Nebula
We end this list with a large bipolar planetary nebula. The Giant Squid Nebula, or "Ou 4" is named after its discoverer: Nicolas Outters. Ou 4 is the fourth nebula discovered by Nicolas, and by far the most impressive one.
Nicolas planned to take images of the Flying Bat Nebula while trying out his new OIII Astrodon filter for the very first time. After doing 30 minutes for each exposure over several nights, Nicolas realized that a large nebulous cloud was visible on his OIII frames only.
He sent an e-mail to Agnès Acker, a planetary nebula specialist at the observatory of Strasbourg. He wrote:
"The shape looks like a bipolar planetary nebula and is only visible in OIII, no trace of it AT ALL in Hydrogen Alpha a or SII !"
A few e-mails back and forth and Agnes confirmed his discovery! Since his discovery, other amateur astrophotographers all over the world frequently use OIII filters to image the area to capture the beautiful Ou 4.
You can read more about Nicolas' discovery by visiting his Astrophotography website.
What is your favorite amateur discovery?
If YOU discovered an astronomical object during your observations, would you prefer to give your name to a nebula, a galaxy, a comet, or something else? Let us know in the comments!
Below you can watch our video about these discoveries:
Know of other cool amateur discoveries that we did not mention? Send us a link below and we will collect them to create a part 2 sometimes in the future!