Stargazing seniors lauded for 10 new finds

by Shunsuke Yamamoto


Two elderly amateur astronomers are receiving high praise from experts for recently discovering 10 new stars — a shining accomplishment considering that only about a dozen are discovered each year.

Koichi Nishiyama, 70, of Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture, and Fujio Kabashima, 68, of Miyaki, Saga Prefecture, teamed up to discover six new stars last year, three more in February, and one this month at their private observatory in the town of Miyaki in Saga.

The two men, who said they want to find “super new stars this year,” will receive an award from the Astronomical Society of Japan on March 26.

Every day, the two go to their silver, domed Miyaki Argenteus observatory and begin searching as soon as the sun sets.

When a new starlike light is found, Nishiyama takes pictures, which Kabashima then analyzes on a personal computer. The two then try to confirm whether the light is an undiscovered star or just dust on the telescope’s lens.

They allow themselves only three hours of sleep as they scan the skies till sunrise.

Even with their best efforts, only one new star is discovered from every 100 points of light. But they persevere because they feel that discovering a new star is an honor. “We are happy to see our names listed on the home page of the International Astronomical Union (in Paris),” they said in a statement.

The observatory’s powerful 40-cm reflecting telescope is housed in a facility that cost as much as two condominiums to construct.

Photochemical smog almost made them give up during the first few months of stargazing, but after finding their first new star in September they never looked back.

Finding and analyzing stars helps refine methods for locating them and is an important addition to the basic data used by research organizations.

“Such a high pace of discovering new stars is rare. They’re an excellent team,” said an official at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan in Tokyo.

Most amateur astronomers work solo and prefer to keep their finds to themselves, but Nishiyama invited longtime friend Kabashima to jointly build the observatory.

“Because we can rely on two sets of eyes, we can be more objective, leading to good results,” Nishiyama said. “We would like to be silver-class astronomers as being gold-class astronomers is impossible.”

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