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Amateur stargazer to receive honorary doctorate

MEDIA RELEASE 26 January 2004
Public Affairs

Renowned amateur stargazer to receive honorary doctorate

An amateur Nelson astronomer who co-discovered the brightest explosion seen by the naked eye in the night sky in three centuries is to receive an honorary doctorate from Victoria University.

Albert Jones, 83, of Stoke, near Nelson, is to receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree at the University's graduation ceremonies in May.

Mr Jones is regarded as one of the world's finest visual observers of variable stars (stars that vary in brightness), with more than 500,000 measurements to his name. Using a telescope he built in 1948 he achieves an accuracy of better than 10 percent in estimating the brightness of a star.

So accurate are his observations that he has a regular request list for his observations from more than 30 professional astronomers in 18 countries. Even an observational programme using the Hubble Space Telescope was initiated following his recommendation. He has contributed to a range of scientific programmes on variable stars and as part of his work he has often been a co-author on international publications, including refereed journals.

Amateur astronomers like Mr Jones play a significant role in astronomy. Because of the high demand on research-grade observatories, it is not possible for professional variable star observers to get long unbroken periods of observing time and they rely on amateur astronomers to fill in the gaps.

Mr Jones came to wide international attention in February 1987 when he co-discovered a supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy next to the Milky Way. Overseas observatories were alerted, allowing astronomers from around the world to study the brightest explosion caused by a dying star to be seen with the naked eye since the early 17th Century.

Mr Jones has also discovered two comets, the first in 1946 when he was 26, and the second in 2001 when he was 80, making him the oldest person to find a comet. The 54-year gap between the two discoveries is also a record.

He has received honours from the Royal Society of New Zealand, the American Association of Variable Star Observers, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the British Astronomical Association and the Royal Astronomical Society. He was made one of the first four Fellows of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand in 1964, and in 1987 awarded an OBE for his services to astronomy. An asteroid was named after him in 1988 in recognition of his achievements.

Growing up in South Canterbury, Mr Jones was educated at Timaru Boys' High School. Now retired, he has worked as a miller in a rolled-oat mill, as a grocery shop owner and in a car assembly factory.

Victoria University Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon said Mr Jones had shown outstanding enthusiasm, industry and dedication to the science of astronomy.

"Many years of patience, perseverance and hard work are required to become proficient at estimating the brightness of stars and only the best observers will be called upon to provide professional astronomers with observational data. The heavy demand for his observations from astronomers around the world is testament to the high regard in which his work is held internationally.

"Working outside the conventional academic environment, Mr Jones' contribution to science would be the envy of many professional researchers. Victoria University is pleased to recognise his achievements by awarding him an honorary Doctor of Science degree."

ENDS

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