Backyard astronomer, Trevor Barry, collected 3,115 days’ worth of data on Saturn and has been awarded the highest honour for an amateur astronomer.
The Berenice and Arthur Page Medal is awarded every two years by the Astronomical Society of Australia (ASA) to an amateur astronomer whose scientific contributions have served to advance astronomy.
For the first time since the medal began in 1973, two awards were granted, with the other award being given to six friends who make up the Backyard Observatory Supernova Search (BOSS).
Mr Barry has been collaborating with NASA and other space agencies and he received the award for his contributions to a broad range of planetary science, particularly his observations of the hexagon above Saturn’s North Pole.
His contribution to astronomy is that he can do what the Hubble Space Telescope and satellite missions cannot do – almost continuously observe Saturn and analyse its dynamic processes.
There is a hurricane above Saturn’s North Pole and six jet streams create the hexagon.
Saturn is rotating so fast that a day on the gas giant takes just 10 hours, 39 minutes and 24 seconds but Mr Barry concluded that the hexagon rotates even faster. He is accurate to six decimal places of a second, when the previous value was only accurate to 0.1 of a second.
Mr Barry’s observations were made over eight and a half years at the observatory which he built in Broken Hill, on the telescope and mount he built.
“I couldn’t afford the $30,000 telescope,” he said.
“I don’t do anything in half measures.”
Just as Saturn would float in a giant bathtub, Mr Barry was “floating” after the news and celebrated by giving himself a day off from mowing the lawns at the Zinc Bowling Club.
“I’m an astronomer greenkeeper and winner of the Berenice and Arthur Medal,” he said.
“I put my foot down.
“I’m having a day off.”