Famous amateur astronomer Donald Machholz died

The world astronomical community has received with sadness the news of the death of Donald Edward Machholz, which occurred on August 9, 2022 as a result of complications of a coronavirus infection. His fame was brought by the discovery of 12 comets, in the name of which his surname is present, as well as active scientific and educational activities.

Among the “comet hunters”, Machholz became famous for the fact that he went to his first discovery for more than 10 years, spending about 1,700 hours on observations. Success came on September 12, 1978. Another 7 years later, a second “tailed star” appeared on the amateur’s account, and in 1986 he managed to find an unusual periodic comet 96P/Machholz with one of the shortest known periods of circulation.

Donald Machholz with his 130mm binocular with which he discovered comet 96P/Machholz

Machholz’ main specialty is an optical engineer, so he assembled most of his tools on his own. He made observations near the small town of Colfax in California, where he lived until 2014, when he finally got married and moved to Arizona. His activities included not only the search for new comets, but also the research of those that were discovered by other astronomers. Machholz was one of the authors of the idea of the “Messier marathon”, during which over the course of one night you need to see as many objects of the famous Messier catalog as possible. He has written several books for astronomy enthusiasts, and in the mid-2000s founded a personal website donmachholz.com, where he shared the secrets of his hobby and covered current astronomical events. At the same time, he became world-famous thanks to the comet, which received the designation C/2004 Q2 — at the beginning of 2005, it could easily be found in the sky with the naked eye.

Comet C/2004 Q2 near the Pleiades star cluster. Source: APOD

In total, this American amateur astronomer devoted over 9,000 hours to the search for “tailed stars” — more than a year in continuous calculation. His latest discovery was comet C/2018 V1 (Machholz-Fujikawa-Iwamoto). At the moment, it is the last object of this class discovered during visual observations, that is, without the use of photographic equipment. Donald Machholz did not live less than two months before his 70th birthday, which was to be celebrated on October 7, 2022. His scientific activity has been awarded with ten prizes and awards. Lithuanian astronomer Kazimieras Chernis named the asteroid 245983 Machholz after him.

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