The Edgar Wilson Award
Each night giant telescopes around the world scan the sky for new solar-system objects, so it would be easy to conclude that the era of comet discoveries by amateur astronomers is over. But that's not the case! It's still possible for amateurs to bag interplanetary visitors that professional automated sky surveys miss. In fact, backyard observers continue to play a valuable role in finding and tracking new comets.
Wilson, who lived in Lexington, Kentucky, had a keen interest in astronomy before his death in 1976. Under the terms of his estate's bequest, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory administers the award through the IAU's Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. Awardees receive individual plaques and share a cash prize. Recently the latter has totaled about $20,000, which is usually divided among two to six amateur individuals or groups. Not since the 1880s have backyard observers stood to gain such sizable financial bounty for their finds.
The comet discoveries can be visual, photographic, or electronic; those made using spacecraft data, such as from SOHO, don't qualify. In years when no such discoveries are made, the SAO will present the award to amateurs who have made major contributions to promoting cometary studies.