Russian amateur astronomer Leonid Elenin has become the first Russian to receive the prestigious Edgar Wilson Award for his discovery of a new comet using amateur equipment.
“It is the most coveted award for amateurs who search for new objects in the Solar System, because to discover a new comet is a dream for any of them, even for those who deny it,” Elenin told RIA Novosti on Thursday.
Elenin, a scientist from the Keldysh Institute of Applied Mechanics, discovered the comet C/2010 X1 on December 10, 2010.
The Elenin Comet gained popularity among adepts of conspiracy and doomsday theories who prophesized a global catastrophe as the comet approached Earth.
However, the comet was hit in August by a coronal mass ejection while approaching the sun and began disintegrating.
Its debris passed Earth at the closest distance of about 35 million kilometers, and as of mid-October 2011, it was not visible even using large ground-based telescopes.
Established in 1998 in memory of American businessman Edgar Wilson, the award is given to amateurs (or to professional astronomers acting in an amateur capacity) who, in a given year find one or more new comets using amateur, privately owned equipment.
The funds available for the award amount to approximately $20,000 to be divided among the award winners for that year.
Elenin will share this year’s monetary award with four other amateur astronomers who discovered two more comets while working in pairs.