Amateur Astronomers Discover Dozens of Supernovae

POSS Telescope
Tim Puckett spent nine years builiding his 60-centimeter (24-inch) survey telescope mostly from scrap. To date he has discovered 54 supernovae.
Courtesy Tim Puckett.
For Tim Puckett, amateur astronomy long ago transcended being a hobby. Words like passion and obsession are more apt to explain Puckett's dedication to the heavens. The most telling evidence is his homegrown Puckett Observatory Supernova Search, affectionately referred to as POSS.

To date, he and his team of more than a dozen volunteers have discovered 54 supernovae. Fifty of those finds were made in just 46 months. The hunters winnowed their discoveries from more than 500,000 galaxy images collected throughout the POSS project.

The workhorse of the POSS program is Puckett's home-built 60-centimeter reflector. The scope took some nine years to complete, going online full-time in 1997. Like POSS, constructing the telescope was a labor of love for Puckett. Many of the scope's "parts and pieces came out of dumpsters," he says. For the past five years, the telescope has patrolled the skies over Mountain Town, Georgia, from dusk to dawn, imaging some 900 galaxies nightly.

In addition to his day job, Puckett spends 40 to 50 hours a week analyzing POSS pictures and maintaining the telescope. The images he doesn't have time to process and inspect, he sends out to his team of volunteers.

SN 2001eo
Supernova 2001eo was located by the Puckett Observatory Supernova Search on October 3, 2001. This discovery image shows the stellar explosion in UGC 3963 shining at magnitude 17.5.
Courtesy Tim Puckett/POSS.
Puckett's motivation comes largely from the thrill of discovery. Before automated professional surveys such as the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research project (LINEAR) began discovering the bulk of the new comets and asteroids, Puckett too was looking for near-Earth objects. He switched to supernova searches because it was "something we can do that the pros haven't completely taken over."

Despite only having time for about four hours of sleep a night, Puckett sees no end to his survey. "I've been working with CCDs since 1988. I enjoy the solitude of astronomy. If I didn't like it so much, I wouldn't have been doing it so long."

POSS team members include Lou Cox, Brian Kerns, Steve Gauthier, Doug George, Alex Langoussis, David Lyon, Mike Marcus, Jack Newton, Mike Peoples, Ajai Sehgal, Ingrid Siegert, Debra Tigner, and Dave Toth.

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