The Merlin Medal and Gift: Tom Boles.
Tom Boles has been interested in astronomy from a young age and worked for a time as a telescope designer at Charles Franks, telescope manufacturers in Glasgow. However, in the mid-1990s Tom began to make a name for himself in the field of supernova discovery, where he has become the most successful discoverer in Europe, and rivals the Americans despite their more favourable skies.
Tom came to prominence in 1997 when he discovered SN 1997dn on October 29. This was the third UK discovery, following Mark Armstrong's pioneering feat of 1996 October and Stephen Laurie's in 1997 April. Tom had been a keen deep sky observer for some years prior to this, obtaining fine images from his home in Wellingborough, Northants., but crucially he learned to couple rapidly changing technology to his new passion, extragalactic supernova patrolling.
By early 2008, Tom Boles had discovered some 108 supernovae in galaxies beyond our own, within a decade. This has been an extraordinary feat, requiring endurance, skill and patience beyond the capability of all but a very few observers. From his early days of patrolling with a 250mm Meade LX200 SCT, Tom's arsenal of instrumentation has grown, and when he relocated to Coddenham in Suffolk to benefit from the darker skies, he developed an impressive observatory, consisting of twin Celestron-14 SCTs on Paramount equatorial mounts in a run-off-roof style of observatory, and then added a third in his original dome, transported from Northamptonshire. He made maximum use of software, including The Sky, CCD Soft, Orchestrate and T-Point to enable him to remotely patrol as many galaxies a night as possible. Just checking the many hundreds of images per clear night that resulted is beyond the imagination of most amateur, and indeed professional, astronomers.
Tom patrols some 12,000 galaxies, and observes at every available opportunity. His statistics for the project are staggering. He has had regular success over the decade since the first discovery, and despite being President of the Association from 2003 to 2005, his discovery rate remained phenomenal, with some 35 supernovae trawled up in that period alone. Many of Tom's discoveries have proved to be unusual or important supernovae, of great interest to professional astronomers who have then turned their 'big guns' on these amateur triumphs.
Through his passion, Tom has inevitably become an expert on supernovae, lecturing widely around the country and contributing many chapters to the literature in books, journals and magazines, encouraging others to participate in supernova patrolling and adapting modern instruments, computer power and observatory building to whatever needs the modern amateur may have.
Tom Boles' achievements are a summation of great skill, phenomenal patience and dogged perseverance and he is a worthy recipient of the Association's Merlin Medal and Gift.