Yuji Hyakutake, an amateur Japanese astronomer known for his discovery of a comet in 1996 that was later dubbed Comet Hyakutake, died Wednesday evening, his family said Thursday. He was 51.

According his wife, Shoko, Hyakutake suddenly started complaining of chest pains Wednesday evening. He was pronounced dead while being transported to a hospital in Kokubu, Kagoshima Prefecture.

Hyakutake, a native of Shimabara, Nagasaki Prefecture, won international acclaim after discovering the comet through a powerful pair of binoculars Jan. 30, 1996, in Hayato, Kagoshima Prefecture. The discovery brought about a nationwide stargazing fad.

He had discovered another comet a month before his landmark discovery.

After Hyakutake graduated from Kyushu Sangyo University as a photography major, he worked at a newspaper in Fukuoka. He began searching for comets in 1989 and moved to Hayato, where his wife’s parents live, in 1993 because “the skies are much clearer there,” according to a statement he released after the comet discovery.

The amateur astronomer became the head of the municipal observatory Starland AIRA in Aira, Kagoshima Prefecture, in October 1996 and later found an asteroid.

Comet Hyakutake, which was acknowledged by the Paris-based International Astronomical Union, came to within about 16 million km of Earth in 1996.

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