Tag Archives: Astronomer’s Telegram

An astronomer thought he discovered a new, bright star — turns out, it was just Mars

Peter Dunsby thought he made a groundbreaking discovery. He noticed a bright object in the night sky, only visible for a few moments. Excited, he wanted to share his discovery with the world, so he Dunsby posted a note on the Astronomer’s Telegram. Unfortunately, as it turns out… Dunsby had re-discovered Mars.

Dunsby quickly issued a correction. Image credits: Astronomer’s Telegram.

Dunsby is a well-known cosmologist who has published extensively in the fields of cosmology and gravitation and is a key member of the South African National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme. But no one is spared of blunders, not even proficient scientists. Despite detailed maps of the night sky, planets move around quite a lot, and it’s easy to overlook even something as elementary as Mars.

The sad thing is, you can even feel the excitement in his words — he just wanted to share his finding with other astronomers, and encourage them to also look for it:

“The object was visible throughout the full duration of the observations and not seen when this field was observed previously (08 March 2018),” Dunsby wrote.

“The optical transient is the brightest star in the field. Further observations are strongly encouraged to establish the nature of this very bright optical transient.”

It didn’t take long for Dunsby to realize and admit his error — no later than 40 minutes after the original submission, he submitted the correction you see above. Astronomer’s Telegram took the chance to poke a little fun at Dunsby:

Dunsby took it well, replying:

Ok ok …. very funny. ?

Lesson learned. Check check and triple check and then check some more!!