Mike's SOHO Comet Hunt

144 Comets Discovered to Date

This has changed my astronomy completely, until January 29 2000 I had no idea that anyone could download images from a web site and make discoveries such as finding comets. The thrill of finding one is immense, in some cases the comets I have found may not have been seen at all either because they were faint, or they were found on archive images taken one to four years previously.

Most of my discoveries have been made by examining archive SOHO LASCO C2 images. In order to view these images, which are only available in the unprocessed FITS format, I had to do all the image processing myself. The program I used for this is MaxIm DL by Diffraction Limited, a perfect program for the job. To view the processed images I then used a program called ACDSee which allows you to view one image after another without any flickering.

I am a member of the Manchester Astronomical Society, the Society for Popular Astronomy (SPA), and the Society for the History of Astronomy (SHA)


10 Aug 2006

I have recored an interview that will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 23 August 2006 at 9.00-9.30pm The programme is called Citizen Science and looks at the world of the amateur scientist and discovers the hidden army of willing helpers to the scientific community. I am on the 3rd programme. For a short while after the programme finishes, it will be available on the internet to listen to. You should also be able to listen live on line as well, so it's not restricted to the UK.

15 Mar 2005

Well it's been a while, over a year in fact, but I discovered one more comet (a Kreutz Comet) on March 7 2005. This is my 144th discovery. Rainer Kracht has also recently discovered 5 more comets and that brings us both joint top in the comet discoverers. Here is the announcement of the discovery by Karl Battams:

   Mar 15 2005 16:54:13
   Confirmations, at last! 
   Soho# Date/Time of Post Discoverer Tel Group Images of...
   914 Mar 07,05 01:50:46 M.Oates C2 Kreutz Mar06,05
   915 Mar 10,05 08:25:37 R.Kracht C3,C2 Marsden Mar10-11,05
   916 Mar 11,05 20:45:05 H.Su C3 Kreutz Mar11-12,05
   917 Mar 13,05 15:37:50 B.Zhou C3,C2 Kreutz Mar13-14,05
   918 Mar 14,05 11:22:54 X.Leprette C3,C2 Kreutz Mar14,05
   919 Mar 15,05 09:29:23 T.Hoffman C3,C2 Kreutz Mar15,05
   920 Mar 13,05 09:06:07 R.Kracht C3 Kreutz Aug08,97
   921 Mar 13,05 09:20:05 R.Kracht C3 Kreutz Aug08-09,97
   922 Mar 14,05 14:06:23 R.Kracht C3 Kreutz Sep19,97
   923 Archive claim email R.Kracht C3 Non-grp Jan21,97
   924 Mar 15,05 12:08:16 B.Zhou C2 Kreutz Mar14-15,05
   Well considering it's March, that's an awful lot of comets we've had
   lately! Mike Oates' Kreutz was deemed real by Brian (see latest MPEC).
   I am assuming here that Xavier's C3 claim is the same as Tony's C2.
   Note Rainer's archive non-group claim. I have 11 or 12 positions for
   the object -- I'm certain it's real but I guess there's always the
   chance it is a "known" comet. I'm sending the astrometry for it 
   So, unless I'm mistaken, this puts Rainer and Mike on joint top-spot 
   for the number of comet discoveries -- they both have 144! Very 

The delay for the confirmation was because the comet in C2 was faint with only just 5 images. The last word was with Brian Marsden if it was to be counted, thankfully it is. You may wonder why the long gaps between my discoveries? Well I basically took three years off from comet hunting to take a Masters Degree (Part time) It was a big commitment, one that needed more of my time. Comet hunting is VERY time consuming, so it had to go.. I can now say that I have graduated with an MSc. in 'Environmental Management and Technology' from UMIST (Manchester, UK), something I am very pleased with, especially at the age of 47!

06 Feb 2004

It is with great honor, that I can announce that Sebastian F. Hönig, a fellow SOHO comet hunter with many comets to his name, also the visual discoverer of C/2002 O4 (Hönig) and discoverer of about 477 Asteroids has had one of his first numbered minor planets named after me: (68948) Mikeoates. I cannot thank Sebastian enough for this.

Citation as it appeared in Minor Planet Circular MPC 50466:

Mikeoates 68948                       Director of an electroplating company
(68948) Mikeoates
   Discovered 2002 Aug. 8 by S. F. Hönig on NEAT images taken at Palomar.
   Through 2003 Michael Oates (b. 1957) has been the most successful SOHO
   comet hunter. Using his personal computer and fast Internet connections to
   scan through the SOHO LASCO image archive, he is credited with 138
   near-sun comet discoveries.

Orbital Elements
(68948) Mikeoates 
Epoch 2003 Dec. 27.0 TT = JDT 2453000.5               MPC
   M 142.34076            (2000.0)           P             Q
   n 0.21120696      Peri. 239.29496    +0.17342666   +0.98474964
   a 2.7925260       Node 40.69949      -0.89616935   +0.16362005
   e 0.0375360       Incl. 1.21548      -0.40841607   +0.05913226
   P 4.67            H 15.6           G 0.15          U 1
   From 40 observations at 5 oppositions, 1993-2002, mean residual 0".39.
Discovery date : 2002 08 08 
   Discovery site : Palomar 
   Discoverer(s) : Hoenig, S. F. 

Minor Planet (68948) Mikeoates belongs to the Main Belt IIb. with a size of ~5 km.

Orbit of (68948) Mikeoates

26 Dec 2003

After a gap of 9 months, I have just reported my 143rd comet. Reported with only 2 images seen, however, the path, appearance and motion were consistent with a Kreutz comet at this time of year. Two previous Kreutz comets had just passed through this area the day before. I can safely say that, even with so many discoveries, finding this latest one is just as exciting and rewarding as the first comets I found. I am also very happy to welcome Karl Battams who is the person on the SOHO team who's now responsible for measuring and reporting the SOHO comets to CBAT.

19 Jun 2003

I think an update is needed...

I am still looking for comets, and I am still finding them, but I don't have the time needed to be first to report them. Today Rainer Kracht reported his 100th SOHO comet, well done Rainer. So it looks like my record of 142 comets is now in serious risk of being beaten!

19 Mar 2003

Reported a Kreutz group comet in realtime C3 images today. The comet can be seen right at the edge of the field, so there is a chance that this may be a bright one.

Report positions:
   (0,0 in BOTTOM LEFT corner in 1024x1024 images)
   Image                Col Row 
   20030319_1618_c3.gif 87  222
   20030319_1642_c3.gif 90  227
   20030319_1718_c3.gif 95  230
   20030319_1742_c3.gif 98  232
   20030319_1842_c3.gif 106 238

21 Jan 2003

On the 19th January I had been busy with my assignment for a course that I am taking. At the end of the afternoon I checked for new images from SOHO as there has not been any that day or the day before since early morning. The images were there, I had no idea how long they had been available and downloaded all the C2 and C3 images for that period. I inspected C2 images, nothing there, then looked at the C3 images, and there, on images from the 18th was a faint comet. I then checked the reports page expecting it to have been reported, but hadn't. Very quickly I made a report and I was first, but in my haste I had posted the wrong position, I had transposed some figures and had to make a correction. This is SOHO-582.

I am very pleased with this find, as earlier that day I had emailed Sebastian and said that it did not look as though I would reach 150 comets, a target I had said I would like to get to. There are more people looking for comets in the SOHO images and many of these are looking at the realtime B/W images as they are made available, which requires a great deal of time spent at the computer. Time do not have these days!

It is now approaching 3 years since I started to look for comets on the SOHO images. I would like to express my thanks to the SOHO team for making the images available in almost realtime, especially Doug Biesecker and Derek Hammer for there work in confirming and measuring the positions for reporting to CBAT. I would also like to thank very much all other SOHO comet hunters for their support and emails, and for making this so much more enjoyable. And finally, this would not have happened if it was not for Jon Shanklin who gave a short talk on how he discovered a SOHO comet 3 years ago. 141 comets in 3 years, not bad eh!

18 Dec 2002

On the 11th Dec I reported a comet in C2 images from the previous days images. The report time was Dec 11 2002 12:26:26. However one second earlier, yes ONE Second! Xavier Leprette had posted a report for the same comet. This is the closest two reports have ever been except one for Sebastian and Xavier who posted a report at the same second, this was SOHO-517 on the 17 Sept 2002. Today the 18th, Derek has decided to give Xavier and myself joint credit for the discovery, partly as it was so close, but also due to the fact that I had also included other information such as when the comet was and listed all the images. Had I sent in a short post such as "comet in C2, positions next post" I would not have been given credit. This is my 140th confirmed comet and is SOHO-573.

24 Oct 2002

Over two years ago on 28 June 2000 I reported a possible Kreutz comet found in C2 images to Doug Biesecker, but alas it did not have enough images for confirmation, so it was assigned to a list of possible comets unoficially called X/Comets. These are most likely to be comets but they do not meet the minimum specification of 4 good images.

Then on 19 October 2002 Rainer Kracht reports a number of images of a comet in C3 images and he reports that it maybe the same comet I reported over two years previously. Today Derek Hammer has confirmed that this is indeed a Kreutz comet and must have been over looked somehow. This is SOHO-531.

Was this the only one to be overlooked? I don't know, but I intend to search the C3 images for all the other X/Comets just in case. Many thanks to Rainer for his report.

12 Oct 2002

The comet I report on the 8th has been confirmed as SOHO 528.C/2002 T3 see: 2002-T75 It was visible in both C3 and then C2.

8 Oct 2002

Not too long since my last Kreutz comet find in LASCO C3 and I have found another today, again in C3 images, this one is brighter. The comet has a hint of a tail, and most of the images I have so far are 512x512 B&W so I have yet to see a good animation of it. Seen in images from 16:18 to 21:18 so far

23 Sept 2002

Quick note to say that the discovery of the Kreutz comet in C3 images has been confirmed. This is SOHO-521.

20 Sept 2002

After two months of searching the real time images for comets since my last discovery, I have finally found one. For a change this is a real time Kreutz comet in LASCO C3 images which is unusual for me. This has not yet been confirmed. I have found a few comets during this period but I was always beaten by someone else. I now know what other people must have felt like when I was reporting most of the discoveries in 2000-2001!!!

The report can be seen on the reports page.

14 Aug 2002

The 500th SOHO comet has been descovered by Rainer Kracht of of Elmshorn in Germany. His discovery was of a real time Meyer Group comet in C2 images from 12 Aug 2002. The official designation is Comet 2002 P3 (SOHO).

22 July 2002

Derek very quickly (on a Sunday evening as well) confirmed both Rainers and my reports yesterday of the Meyer Group comets. Rainers find is SOHO-490 and my find is SOHO-491.

21 July 2002

Found another Meyer Group comet today. This one from 15 Dec 2001. Quite a faint one that I missed a few days before. I only looked again after Rainer found a Meyer group comet (Also today) from 2 Nov 2001 which I also missed! Well done Rainer. This if confirmed will be the 29th Meyer group comet.

Possible archive Meyer group comet in C2 images 15 Dec 2001
  (0,0 in bottom left corner in 1024x1024 images)
  Image                Col Row 
  20011215_1056_c2.gif 583 892
  20011215_1106_c2.gif 598 901
  20011215_1130_c2.gif 547 905
  20011215_1154_c2.gif 618 943
  20011215_1206_c2.gif 626 953
  20011215_1230_c2.gif 640 973
  20011215_1254_c2.gif 654 992
  20011215_1331_c2.gif 676 1020
Michael Oates

18 July 2002

I have continud to look for the Meyer group of comets and I have found another one from archive images from 12 Sept 2001. Technicaly these are archive images, but as with the previous discovery these are from the GIF images that I downloaded when they were realtime images. I have kept every image that have ever downloaded which are stored on CD-ROMs. There are hundreds of these CD-ROMs!!. It certainly has paid off keeping the images, as many times now I have gone over them again and found more comets. I have just stated to archive the images to DVD which takes up a lot less space.

My 135th comet and my 4th Meyer group comet. This is SOHO-489, getting close to SOHO-500!

Possible Meyer comet in archive images from 12 Sept 2001
(0,0 in bottom left corner in 1024x1024 images)
Image Col Row 20010912_1706_c2.gif 1006 892 20010912_1730_c2.gif 980 914 20010912_1754_c2.gif 953 936 20010912_1806_c2.gif 939 946 20010912_1831_c2.gif 909 969 20010912_1855_c2.gif 877 991 Michael Oates

12 July 2002

I decided to have a look for the Meyer comets yesterday and today I found one. At first I was unsure if this was a new comet as it was quite bright. This was confirmed by Sebastian and Rainer and very quickly given the SOHO number 482 by Derek Hammer. The report follows:

   Possible Meyer group comet in archival C2 images from 1 June 2001
   This is quite a bright one.
   I do hope this has not already been reported!
   (0,0 in bottom left corner in 1024x1024 images)
   Image                Col Row 
   20010601_0908_c2.gif 337 851
   20010601_0930_c2.gif 329 871
   20010601_0954_c2.gif 320 892
   20010601_1206_c2.gif 277 994
   20010601_1230_c2.gif 270 1010
   Michael Oates

I have updated my list of comets discovered to show which comey group they belong to. When I first made the list there was only one group the Kreutz sungrazer group and 'others'. But now three more groups have been established. Meyer, Marsden & Kracht. See the follwing pages for more information about these groups:

Rainer Kracht by Rainer Kracht
New families of comets by Maik Meyer
Three new comet groups discovered in SOHO/LASCO images by Sebastian Hönig
SOHO Comets by Jon Shanklin

15 June 2002

After a long gap of no discoveries (Due to other commitments), I have just reported my 133 rd comet. This is Kreutz comet.
The report follows:

   Comet in realtime C2 images
   Kreutz comet, faint and diffuse, no tail.
   (0,0 in bottom left corner in 1024x1024 images)
   Image                Col Row 
   20020615_0850_c2.gif 867 74
   20020615_0855_c2.gif 866 75
   20020615_0905_c2.gif 865 83
   20020615_0910_c2.gif 865 85
   20020615_0920_c2.gif 863 91
   20020615_0925_c2.gif 863 95
   20020615_0935_c2.gif 861 102
   Michael Oates

6 May 2002

Been a while sice there was an update, and just as long since finding a comet :( Anyway there is a new article on wired.com, why not take a look. http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,52233,00.html

I am busy with come courses at the moment, but I will be back !

29 Oct 2001

Some missing images from 6 October 2001 became available, and guess what, there was a comet hiding in there :) I reported it on Oct 17, been a little busy and forgot to update this page. The comet can be seen from 20:30 to 23:06 UT on 6 Oct 2001.

6 Oct 2001

My last two discoveries have been given their designations COMETS C/1996 R4, C/2001 S2 see MPEC 2001-T15

1 Oct 2001

I have started to look at the archive C3 data now. Yesterday I discovered a comet in C3 images dating from 14 Sept 1996, my oldest find yet. My report follows...

   Comet in archive C3 images from 14 Sept 1996
   There was a gap of 3 days with no images, the first image
   in this sequence shows the comet quite bright, it then
   fades as it gets closer to the Sun. A slight elongation
   can be seen but no obvious tail. The 512x512 images are
   PW Sequence.
   All measured by extrapolating the frames to 1024x1024
   (0,0 in bottom left corner)
   Image        Col Row Format   Time         Date 
   32008096.fts 677 417 1024x576 19:18:09.777 1996/09/14
   32008097.fts 671 422 1024x576 19:45:05.763 1996/09/14
   32008098.fts 664 428 512x512  20:22:09.243 1996/09/14
   32008099.fts 663 428 512x512  20:24:04.642 1996/09/14
   32008100.fts 662 428 512x512  20:26:52.041 1996/09/14
   32008101.fts 662 428 512x512  20:29:39.939 1996/09/14
   32008102.fts 658 431 1024x576 20:45:14.131 1996/09/14
   32008103.fts 644 442 1024x576 21:47:05.499 1996/09/14
   32008104.fts 637 447 1024x576 22:16:06.783 1996/09/14
   There is too large a time gap until the next image at 
   23:45:05.438 and does not show the comet.
   Michael Oates

29 Sept 2001

After a period of 3 months with no new comet discoveries, I have at last found one ! It's not for the want of trying either. I have just been unlucky, but there again this has meant other people have had a chance, with a few new comers to the hunt getting their first discovery.

This comet is a real time sungrazer found in C2 images, this is only a few days after a massive CME that left the detectors completely filled with noise, this noise is starting to clear and I found this one trying to sneak in amongst the noise. I saw it in 6 C2 images, but Derek Hammer also confirms it to be in many C3 images as well. Not sure of the SOHO number as there are a couple of pending archive discoveries to be confirmed by Xavier Leprette. The comet does not show a tail but is a largish diffuse ball.

16 Aug 2001

It's quiet on the SOHO comet scene at the moment, the SOHO comets count is up to 344, it's a quiet time of year for sungrazers, see my C2 comet plots to see why.

I found C/1996 J1 Evans-Drinkwater in LASCO C3 images on the 14 Aug 2001. Follows my provisional report...

C/1996 J1 Evans-Drinkwater found in LASCO C3 images

It is in 190 (one hundred and ninety) C3 images from 21 Dec 1996 04:18 to 9 Jan 1997 12:55 It will also be in other images of different image formats and sizes, all the images I have checked are 1024x1024

Sample position with Magnitude
LASCO C3 1024x1024 images
0,0 in bottom left corner

Image        Col Row Date       Time         Mag
32011096.fts 21  701 1996/12/22 22:36:40.981 8.5 

I will post more positions at a later time and hopfully produce a light curve. The above Mag estimate is provisional.

Joint credit for this find goes to Jonathan Shanklin.Jon asked me if I could check the C3 images from 20 Dec 1996 to 9 Jan 1997 as he calculated it may just be in the C3 field at the northern edge, but it may be too faint to be detected. I downloaded and processed the images for this period only to find it was not there.

I obtained the elements for the orbit from Jon and I worked out that it that it should be at the left hand edge of the images moving upwards slowly. Another look at the images soon uncovered the comet.

C/1996 J1 is fairly condensed with a very slightly diffuse coma. No tail is visible. It's brigtness does vary along it's track.

The images for the period 29 Dec 1996 to 9 Jan 1997 are very sparse at the full resolution with about 2 images per day.

Incidently, this is another 'Twin' if it can loosly be called that, (very loosly, I know it's not really) the other comet in the same field is SOHO-6

12 July 2001

The comet I found in LASCO C2 realtime images on June 27 has now been accepted, this is SOHO-339. This is another twin comet with the brighter SOHO-338 discovered by Xavier Leprette in C3 images the day before, after it appeared in C2 I found SOHO-339.

8 July 2001

Yesterday the 7 July 2001 at the BAA Exhibition Meeting in London, I was presented with the Steavenson Award for my comet discoveries. This award is given annually to a member of the BAA who has made an outstanding contribution to observational astronomy. This is something I am very proud to have been given. The award is in the form of a certificate and a book, the book I chose very aptly was "The Collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 and Jupiter" from the Space Telescope Science Institute.

The full citation is...

"It is unusual for an amateur astronomer to discover a comet. It is unheard of for one to discover over 100 in the course of a single year! Michael Oates attended a meeting of the SPA at the beginning of 2000 at which Jonathan Shanklin told how he had discovered three comets in real time SOHO imagery. Michael was so enthused by this that within 48 hours he had reported a discovery of his own, although the comet had in fact already been reported. Nothing daunted he stuck to the task and soon made an independent discovery. This lead him to develop processing techniques that he applied first to real time imagery and then to archive imagery, which lead to the discovery of large numbers of sungrazing comets that had been missed by the professional astronomers. His success has led other amateurs to develop the same systematic approach to scanning the images. These discoveries have together provided the foundation for a reappraisal of the flux of Kreutz group comets members and scientific papers are already being written as a result.

In every branch of observational astronomy it is essential to follow a methodical approach to the observing process and Michael's success is a splendid example to all amateur astronomers. Such success does not come easy, it requires a tremendous investment of time and effort to acquire, process and scan the many images that are available. We believe that his approach, diligence and astounding success make Michael Oates a worthy recipient of the Steavenson Award."

29 June 2001

I have produced a paper on the SOHO comets called Comets and Cometary Fragmentation: Their Possible Effect on Life in Planetary Systems It is published as a special edition 'Current Notes' the magazine for the Manchester Astronomical Society. It's is a pdf file 1.25 Mb.

27 June 2001

Today comet also found in LASCO C2 realtime images was very faint, this still needs confirming. It was slightly behind and to the right of a brighter comet that was discovered by Xavier Leprette in C3 images. Xavier's comet was very condensed with a long narrow tail.

26 June 2001

Today I found a sungrazer in LASCO C2 realtime images, faint, diffuse with a hint of a tail. This is SOHO-337. Earlier in the day a brighter comet found by K. Cernis in C3 images came into the C2 field, but faded after 4 images. The comet I found was further to the left and appeared at the right hand side of the LASCO logo and was seen in more than 9 images (more still to come).

19 June 2001

Nice way to start the day... find a comet before breakfast ! This one seen in 15 C2 images, is quite faint, round with no tail. A Kreutz sungrazer, still to be confirmed. Don't forget to see the List of Comet Discoveries to find out what these discoveries have been designated as, with links to the MPEC and IAUC.

I forgot to mention I found a comet in achive C2 images from 27 Mar 1998 on 17 June, this was just after SOHO-202. I found this by accident while checking out on of Maik Meyer's X/ comets that was just before SOHO-202. But as this is only seen in 3 images it too will be classed as an X/ comet as well.

I should also mention that Astronomy Magazine July edition has an article called "Cybertrackers". It is about people who use the internet to access data to make discoveries, and guess what I feature in it :)

This page is getting a bit big so I have archived the older parts.

17 June 2001

This weekend SOHO has been taking images every 5-10 mins, this is a great time to find comets as you end up with lots of positions. I discovered a faint sungrazer on 16 June 2001 in realtime C2 images, it appears on about 36 frames!!. Still to be confirmed.

My previous archive report has nowbeen confirmed.

14 June 2001

I reported a comet today, this is an important discovery, see my report below. This brings my comets discovered so far to 125

Archive Comet in LASCO C2 images
(0,0 in bottom left corner in 1024x1024 images)
   The 512x512 images have been enlarged to 1024 for
   the measurments. The 1024x768 size has been measured
   as if it was 1024x1024
   Image Col Row Image-Size Date Time
   22014972.fts 845 56 512x512 1997/05/31 20:16:48.766
   22014973.fts 845 59 512x512 1997/05/31 20:19:19.264
   22014974.fts 845 62 512x512 1997/05/31 20:23:05.981
   22014975.fts 845 65 512x512 1997/05/31 20:26:50.960 
   22014977.fts 844 126 1024x1024 1997/05/31 21:45:20.814
   22014979.fts 843 143 1024x768 1997/05/31 22:05:05.503
   22014980.fts 842 163 1024x1024 1997/05/31 22:30:05.389
This comet was report previously on 25 July 2000. It was
   designated an X/Comet as there were not enough images, 
   (the last 3 above).
   I have been going through some of these X/Comets and I was
   able to process the 512x512 PW Seq images. These are not
   shown as real time images, and I have never before been able 
   to process them as they have widely different exposures, filters
   and polorising filters. Today I have worked out to do this.
In addition there are more positions for SOHO-185 discovered
   by Derek. This makes the pair another 'Twin'
SOHO-185 (Extra positions)
   Image Col Row Image-Size Date Time
   22014972.fts 708 82 512x512 1997/05/31 20:16:48.766
   22014973.fts 708 84 512x512 1997/05/31 20:19:19.264
   22014974.fts 708 86 512x512 1997/05/31 20:23:05.981
   22014975.fts 709 89 512x512 1997/05/31 20:26:50.960 

12 June 2001

Both the comets found on 8 May have been confirmed.

08 June 2001

Another faint comet found today in C2 realtime images. Still to be confirmed And a short while later another one following on, this is quite different from the previous comet, this is very diffuse with a hint of tail, while the earlier one was small and condensed. Both need to be confirmed. This would bring my total to 124 comets.

07 June 2001

Coming in fast now. A sungrazer found in realtime C2 images on 5 June 2001. This appeared in 8 images and was very faint, diffuse with no tail. SOHO-324.

05 June 2001

Yesterday found my 121st comet SOHO-322. This was found early evening, but the images were from early morning, somehow others had missed it. I had not looked all day and checked the images upon getting home after work. This is quite a faint comet with no tail, in LASCO C2 images.

For older news visit the archive page

A few web pages that feature my discoveries...

Images Courtesy of SOHO/LASO consortium. SOHO is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

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