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Backyard stargazers win top prize

A group of mates and a former mine worker with eyes on the stars have won top honours in the National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers.

The contributions of the two amateur astronomy projects have been so significant that both were awarded the 2022 Page Award on Saturday.

The first went to the team called the Backyard Observatory Supernova Search, or BOSS for short.

The team comprises six friends living in Australia and New Zealand who monitor distant galaxies to detect the death throes of massive stars as they explode in brilliant supernovas.

A supernova occurs when a star reaches the end of its life and explodes in a burst of light.

According to NASA, supernovas are “the largest explosion that takes place in space and can outshine entire galaxies and radiate more energy than our sun will in its entire lifetime”.

They are also the primary source of heavy elements such as carbon and nitrogen needed to create life.

The BOSS Team observe the skies from backyards in Brisbane, on the Gold Coast and at a dairy farm near Christchurch, New Zealand.

“We’ve discovered about 200 confirmed supernovas over the years,” BOSS member Greg Bock said.

Once spotted, the team calls in professional astronomers who use giant scientific telescopes to study the star’s final moments.

Also taking out the top prize is former mine worker Trevor Barry from Broken Hill.

After a lifetime of mining the earth, he found his passion in the sky, designing and building his own observatory.

Mr Barry found a white spot on Saturn in 2008, which turned out to be a powerful electrical storm with lightning 10,000 times more powerful than that found on earth.

The discovery proved invaluable to NASA’s Cassini mission, with Mr Barry joining the elite team tracking the storm.

“The CASSINI space craft orbiting Saturn couldn’t image the storm on a day-to-day basis due to its orbit and other priorities. I could,” Mr Barry said.

The storm swirled for seven months, making it the longest-lived storm recorded on Saturn.

The discovery inspired Mr Barry, and he continues to provide storm data to NASA and others about Saturn, Jupiter and Mars.

The keen astronomer says he’ll keep watching Saturn for as long as he still draws breath.

“I’m waiting for the next big thing to happen because Saturn can be a bit staid. It’s not rambunctious like Jupiter,” he said.

“I’m so honoured by this award. It’s the highest honour that the peak professional body in Australia can bestow on an amateur. It’s humbling to me.”

The Astronomical Society of Australia awards the Page Medal every two years in recognition of contributions that have advanced the field of astronomy.

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