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Martinsberg - Interview with an amateur astronomer: they call him a "comet hunter"

Martinsberg – Interview with an amateur astronomer: they call him a “comet hunter”

The only observatory is located in the Zwettl district of Martinsberg. It’s headed by Michael Jagger, whose eighth new comet discovery was confirmed by the Minor Planet Center (MPC, USA) in September.

Noun: Mr. Jagger, you discovered your eighth comet at your observatory in Martinsberg. You live in Wachau, how did you decide to do science in Martinsberg?

Michael Jaeger: It was a coincidence. I wanted to set up an observatory for the pension, and Waldviertel was one of the potential sites. Three years ago I read in NÖN that Martinsberg had plans to expand the observatory. Then I called then-president of the observatory association Gerhard Janow and mayor Friedrich Forst and asked if I could participate. Mayor Forrest was very interested because he was looking for someone to also play on this project.

They have also set up a dedicated astrophotography observatory here for your scientific astronomy. Is it private

Fisher man: Yes, but the property is owned by the municipality. The right to use is agreed for 25 years, after which everything becomes the property of the municipality.

Martinsberg is the perfect location. Here, light pollution is not as pronounced as in Wachau or in St. Polten. Astronomers also like to go to the mountains, the higher the altitude, the better, because the location at an altitude of 800 meters above sea level is ideal. The nights are dark, and we also take this opportunity to draw your attention to the fact that darkness is a valuable asset here in West Waldviertel, as light pollution has also increased in eastern Austria. Due to the lack of power we are currently experiencing, the bulbs may not shine as brightly next winter – which could be useful for astronomers. Of course, the light gives you safety at night, but you do not have to light the garden and trees at night, it also harms plants and animals and is a meaningless waste of energy.

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They are called “comet hunters”. Was it because of your discoveries?

Fisher man: I got that nickname a long time ago because I’ve been seeing comets since I was little. In 1973, there was a real media hype about Comet Kohutik, which was announced as the comet of the century, and it should be very bright and visible to the naked eye. I was living in Vienna at the time and had never seen this comet. But this story fascinated me so much that I wanted to dig deeper into this comet topic. She has remained faithful to this hobby to this day. In the past 40 years, I’ve photographed and documented 1,100 comets accessible from Austria – there is only one person in the world, a colleague from Bavaria, who has observed more comets than I have.

What fascinates you so much about comets?

Fisher man: You can observe a lot as an astronomer. There are planets, the moon, the Milky Way, the gas groups – all these things have in common that they do not change. Comets sometimes change their appearance within a few hours, and I found it very exciting to document exactly these changes. I always try to observe a comet for several nights in order to experience the physical changes on its surface.

You have discovered eight comets in your life. Are you always fishing there?

Fisher man: I observe comets four to five days a month. The discoveries were accidental. My first discovery of a comet was in 1994 – I made it from the balcony of an apartment in Berchtoldsdorf. I technically rebooted my equipment and the discovery of this part of a comet was a happy coincidence. So not on the mountain, not too dark due to its proximity to Vienna, but with bright equipment. The second discovery was in 1998 in my parents’ garden in the Vienna woods, and it was also a coincidence. I took a picture of a comet and there was a second comet on that picture. I discovered it and it was named after me. It’s called the 290P/Jäger. Then I didn’t discover anything for a long time, and from 2020 until recently I’ve discovered six new small comets. Now this was running.

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When will the Komet 290P/Jäger be seen again?

Fisher man: My guilt comes back constantly every 15 years. I saw him again, that was in 2014. If everything works out, I’ll see him again in seven years.

Can you rehearse exactly when there?

Fisher man: This is part of my job. Locating comets is important. You determine a very precise location and send the data to the Minor Planet Centre. There, all the data they receive from astronomers and amateur astronomers around the world are processed and orbits are calculated. I have a personal work schedule: I plan to spotlight five to eight comets per night. The next day I evaluate these results and send these data to the United States. This is science, what I do there, on a voluntary basis, like many others around the world.