Greg Bock with his Meade 14LX200R telescope

Backyard astronomers win recognition from the professionals

200 supernova found by six mates – enabling discoveries about the evolution of stars and the ingredients of life

Ex-miner from Broken Hill discovers a massive electrical storm on Saturn and guides NASA mission

Two amateur astronomy projects were awarded the 2022 Page Medal on Saturday 16 April at the National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers held online.

The six friends who make up The Backyard Observatory Supernova Search (BOSS) Team monitor distant galaxies to detect the death throes of massive stars as they explode in brilliant supernovae. The team then alerts professional telescopes to swing into action and study these phenomena at the crucial moment. The sooner those observations begin, the more is learnt about the lead up to the star’s final moments.

Without supernovae shedding their material across space, there wouldn’t have been any ingredients available for life or even for planets like the Earth to develop. The BOSS Team make their observations from backyards in Brisbane, on the Gold Coast and from a dairy farm near Christchurch, New Zealand. The team are Pat Pearl, Stu Parker, Greg Bock, Peter Marples, Colin Drescher and Brendan Downs.

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

In 2008, former mine worker Trevor Barry found a white spot on Saturn, which turned out to be an electrical storm.

“The CASSINI space craft orbiting Saturn couldn’t image the storm on a day-to-day basis, due to its orbit and other priorities. I could,” says Trevor. The storm swirled for seven months, making it the longest-lived storm ever recorded on Saturn. Trevor continues to provide storm data to NASA and others about Saturn, Jupiter and Mars.

The Page Medal is awarded every two years by the Astronomical Society of Australia (ASA) to recognise scientific contributions that have advanced the field of astronomy. It was established to honour Berenice and Arthur Page, a wife-and-husband team who were amateur pioneers of astronomy in Australia and foundation members of the ASA.

ASA President Professor John Lattanzio says 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,” says John.

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

Trevor Barry says he’ll keep watching Saturn for 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, he says.

“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,” says Trevor.