Robert Evans (astronomer)

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Robert Owen Evans (born 1937) is a minister of the Uniting Church in Australia and an amateur astronomer who holds the all-time record for visual discoveries of supernovae (42).[1][2]

Evans was born in Sydney, Australia. He graduated from the University of Sydney, majoring in philosophy and modern history. Coming from a religious family, Evans trained to become a Methodist minister and was ordained by the New South Wales Conference in 1967. He served as a circuit minister until his retirement in 1998.

Evans took up supernova hunting around 1955, but his first adequate instrument was a 10 inch (25 cm) Newtonian telescope he had assembled only about 1968. He made his first official supernova discovery in 1981 and found nine more before using larger telescopes. While living in Coonabarabran, New South Wales he used his own 16 inch (40 cm) telescope. From early 1995 to mid-1997 he also had limited access to the Siding Spring 40-inch (1.0 m) Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory (he was allocated about 110 nights, half of which were suitable for observing), resulting in about 10,000 galaxy observations, another three visual supernovae discoveries, and an additional four supernovae spotted on photographs made at the observatory.

By 2001, he had made 33 visual discoveries and by the end of 2005, despite the increasing competition from automated telescopes, the total number had already increased to 40 visual supernova discoveries plus one comet. In 2005, Evans relied almost exclusively on his 31 cm Dobsonian. He reported 6,814 galaxy observations in a period of 107 hours and 30 minutes, spread out over 77 nights. During that time, he found four supernovae; three had already been discovered by others, the fourth was SN 2005df, which was Evan's third supernova discovery in NGC 1559 (after SN 1984J and SN 1986L) and his 40th visual discovery.

In his book An Anthropologist on Mars, Oliver Sacks described Evans' memory as eidetic or savantlike:[3] he has memorized the starfield foregrounds and positions of around 1500 galaxies and can detect changes simply by looking at them through his telescope. In an interview, Evans reported that he was able "to observe 50 galaxies an hour when they were scattered around the sky, and 120 galaxies an hour in Virgo".[4] Only in the 1990s did automated telescopes come into use which offered a comparable speed – like the Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope. Evans also features prominently in Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything which quotes him as saying "There's something satisfying, I think, about the idea of light travelling for millions of years through space and just at the right moment as it reaches Earth someone looks at the right bit of sky and sees it. It just seems right that an event of that magnitude should be witnessed."[5]

Supernova 1983N, spotted by Evans in 1983 in the galaxy M83 long before it reached its peak, turned out to be the first discovery of a new type of supernova, later named Type 1b.[6]

In 2005, Evans resigned from being the chairman of the AAVSO Supernovae Search Committee after serving in that position for two decades. He is the author of a number of books on religious history. Among many honors and recognitions of his work, he received the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1988 for his contributions to science.[2]

Evans lives in Hazelbrook, Australia where he writes books and continues his supernova hunting using a 12 inch (31 cm) reflecting telescope from his back porch. The bulky 16-inch (410 mm) telescope fell into disuse since the place in Hazelbrook didn't accommodate a permanent installation in the back yard.


In 1985 he received, with Gregg Thompson, the Amateur Achievement Award of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific for his observations of supernovae.[7]

Books by Robert Evans[edit]

  • Evans, Robert (1993). An Evangelical World-View Philosophy
  • Evans, Robert (Compiled and edited 1996, 2007). An Outline History of Evangelical Revivals in the Pacific Islands and in Papua New Guinea
  • Evans, Robert & McKenzie, Roy (1999). Evangelical Revivals in New Zealand
  • Evans, Robert (2000, 2007). Early Evangelical Revivals in Australia (2nd Ed.)
  • Evans, Robert (2005). Evangelism and Revivals in Australia, 1880 to 1914 (First volume)
  • Evans, Robert (2005). Fire From Heaven: A Description and Analysis of the Revivals of the 'Burned-Over District' of Upstate New York, 1800-1840, and Spiritual Deceptions
  • Evans, Robert (2007). Emilia Baeyertz - Evangelist: Her Career in Australia and Great Britain


  1. ^ "Wesley Mission Rise and Shine Archives May 2010". Retrieved 2011-02-25. 
  2. ^ a b Smith, Bridie. "The 10 January 2009". Melbourne. Retrieved 2011-02-25. 
  3. ^ An Anthropologist on Mars page 189 Picador 1995
  4. ^ Interview of Robert Evans [1] accessed 7 November 2010
  5. ^ A Short History of Nearly Everything, page 32, First Edition, Doubleday, 2003
  6. ^ Searching for Supernovae: A More Personal Story [2] accessed 5 November 2010
  7. ^ Past Amateur Achievement Winners [3] accessed 5 November 2010

External links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Russell Merle Genet
Amateur Achievement Award of Astronomical Society of the Pacific (together with Gregg Thompson)
Succeeded by
Jean Meeus