Section History

1982 – 2005 Director, Dr Andrew Hollis

Coordinated observations of the asteroids and remote planets during this period represented new areas of activity for the British Astronomical Association. Individuals have made and reported observation of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto and these can be found in the pages of the BAA Journal but there was no attempt at systematic group observation of these planets in the United Kingdom prior to 1985. Occasionally observations of asteroids were requested and reported but they did not form part of any observing strategy.

Prior to the 1960s, asteroids were largely dismissed by astronomers as an irrelevance, and indeed a nuisance as they deflected attention of observers or contaminated images taken of stars and galaxies. Two things changed this attitude. The first was the prospect of sending spacecraft through the Asteroid Belt. The second was the realisation that the more-distant asteroids may not have been altered since they formed and hence probably closely related in composition to that of the original Solar Nebula.

During the late 1960s and the 1970s, thanks to the activities of several professional astronomers, interest in and knowledge of the asteroids improved substantially.

In 1982, a Minor Planets Group was started as part of the Terrestrial Planets Section. Richard Baum invited Andrew Hollis to investigate the possibilities for amateur observation. After consulting with the American organization, the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers (ALPO), a preliminary observing program was formulated and an initial project, to visually observe asteroid (18) Melpomene, was put in hand for the summer of 1981 (see BAA Journal, Vol 98, 5). Projects for many visual observers to follow a single asteroid had not been tried anywhere before, so there was no model to follow. A review of the objectives is given in BAA Journal Vol 96, 1.

Once observations had been received, the problem was how to reduce, analyse and report them. Several different approaches were tried initially but were not satisfactory.

At this time, interest in the use of photoelectric photometry by amateurs was growing. Richard Miles and Andrew Hollis both realised that here was a perfect way to study asteroids and during 1982-83 both constructed equipment and began work. A worldwide campaign to observe 8 Flora in 1984 was successful and resulted in a new determination of the rotation period (see BAA Journal, Vol 97, 4).

The success of the photoelectric photometry of asteroids with the buoyant interest in visual work encouraged Council to create a new observing section. In June 1984, the Minor Planets Section was formed with Andrew Hollis as Director and Richard Miles as Assistant Director.

After consultation with some professional astronomers, it was decided to analyse observations in accordance with their methods, the inherent inaccuracies of visual observations being balanced by numbers (see Journal Vol 96,1). This has proved very success­ful and we have improved our data processing in line with developments in the professional field. The Association’s activities at that time was unique amongst amateur organisations.

In early 1985 the Section’s activities were expanded to include Uranus, Neptune and Pluto (BAA Journal, Vol. 95, 6). To reflect this widening the Section’s name was changed to its current one: Asteroids and Remote Planets. The first report covering Uranus 1954-1986 was published in 1989 (Journal Vol.99, 2) and a report on Neptune appeared shortly afterwards.

Amateur-Professional consultation and co-operation has a high priority in our activities. It is a pleasure to acknowledge the advice and help we have received from leading professionals in the field. In particular we have formed good working relationships with Professor Tom Gehrels of the University of Arizona and Dr Alan Harris of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, whilst Dr Edward Bowell of the Lowell Observatory, not only a leading professional asteroid researcher but also a BAA member, has provided rapid commentary on our activities by e-mail.

The photoelectric work of the Section at this time has enabled us to provide data for the catalogue of asteroid rotation periods held at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and at Uppsalla Observatory.

To date, the Section has concentrated largely on Photometry of Asteroids and the Outer Planets. This study will continue as the mainstay of Section activities for the foreseeable future and will help us to build up database on photometric properties of individual bodies at different heliocentric longitudes. Astrometric activity has not been very high though a small number of positions have been reported to the Minor Planet Center of the IAU and been published in the Minor Planet Circulars.

The highlight of the Section activities to date occurred on July 3 1989. On this date the occultation of 28 Sgr by Titan was observable from Europe. About 140 observer’s reports were received – from Malta, Sweden, the Netherlands, the Canaries as well as the UK. This event followed an occultation of the star by Saturn and the rings which was well observed from the Americas and we have been cooperating with the BAA Saturn Section over the collection of data for the events. Ten of these reports were from observers using electronic equipment – video cameras and photoelectric photometers. A report was published in BAA Journal and several reports using, amongst others, our observations have been published in the professional journals.

The section has introduced a program for systematic observing of the planetary satellites specifically for the mutual events of those of Jupiter and Saturn and observations of some are already on file. This will be further expanded as opportunities arise. We serve as a medium to organise observation of any Solar System bodies and phenomena not covered by existing sections. With the preparation of accurate predictions successful observation of asteroid occultations has now been recorded in the UK.

In recent years successful Section meetings were held at the Hampshire Astronomical Group’s Clanfield Observatory and during the BAA Winchester Weekend.

It is a pleasure to record the enthusiasm which the Association’s members have brought to the Section and the goodwill shown by the professional astronomers.

Sadly Dr Andrew Hollis passed away peacefully, after a long illness, on 21st November 2005 and his passing was announced in a BAA circular. A copy can be veiwed here.

Dr Andrew Hollis

BAA electronic circular No. 00211

Dear fellow BAA Member,

Once again this November I have very sad news to pass on, namely that Dr Andy Hollis died on Monday morning, November 21st. Tragically, Andy had been diagnosed with bone cancer in September of last year and it was to this illness that he finally succumbed.

Born in Cambridge in 1947, he spent his early youth in Great Yarmouth before moving to Hatfield, when at the early age of 14 he became a member of the Association. During the 60’s and 70’s he was an active variable star and planetary observer and contributed many observations to the sections. In 1980, Andy led the Minor Planet Group as part of the then Terrestrial Planets Section before in 1984 becoming the founding director of the Minor Planets Section, later to become the Asteroids and Remote Planets Section.

In 1992 he was awarded the Merlin Medal and later was one of the very first students of the Open University to receive a Doctorate of Philosophy, his thesis being on the subject of shape studies of asteroids and their orbital evolution. A skillful visual observer he was one of the pioneering few during the 80’s in applying photoelectric photometry to the study of stars, asteroids and planetary satellites.  Unfortunately his health became problematic during the 1990’s when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, initially of a mild form but later more debilitating.  Andy’s reaction to this was very much in character in that he redoubled his efforts to attend more meetings and publish more papers in the Journal, both of which I am pleased to say he achieved.

Andy was very popular and a good friend to many in the Association, not least myself.  It goes without saying that he will be greatly missed. A full obituary in recognition of his life will be published in the Journal in due course.

Richard Miles
BAA President

2005 – 2008   Director, Roger Dymock 

At the November 2005 Council meeting Roger Dymock was formally appointed the new ARPS Director. He would like to thank Dr Richard Miles for holding the fort during the previous Director’s illness. The following text was taken from the 2008 Triennial Report.

Director and Officers

Director                                            Roger Dymock     (October 2005)
Assistant Director (Astrometry)             Peter Birtwhistle  (January 2006)
Asistant Director (Occultations)            Andrew Elliott      (January 2006)
Assistant Director (Photometry)            Richard Miles       (January 2006)


The section aims to foster an interest in all aspects of the study of asteroids and the remote planets. These include; visual telescopic observations, imaging (photographic, CCD, webcam), virtual observing using on-line resources, orbital motion, the impact hazard, history of  discovery and observation, general understanding of the minor planets and space missions to those bodies. Responsibility for observations of Saturn and Neptune were handed over to the Saturn section in December 2005.


An electronic section newsletter is issued monthly. The NEO website was relaunched as the section website, is updated quarterly and includes information on; asteroids, observing and imaging, meetings, space missions to minor planets, books and  observational data supplied by members. The Minor Planet section of the BAA handbook has been expanded to include data on; brighter asteroids, astrometry, occultations, photometry and NEO close approaches. BAA Journal input has included reports of presentations at Observer’s Workshops, a paper by Fiona Vincent and a number of Note sand News items. The section entry in the BAA Observing Guide was also updated and section information prepared for John Mason for inclusion in the BAA new members pack. Material was submitted to Nick James in February 2007 for inclusion in a set of posters to be displayed at BAA Exhibition meetings. A number of BAA Electronic Bulletins issued relating to the close approach of several Near Earth Asteroids. Occultation predictions are circulated monthly by Assistant Director Andrew Elliott. The Section subscribes to and receives by email: Minor Planet Electronic Circulars from the Minor Planet Center and Electronic Telegrams from the IAU Central Bureau for Electronic Telegrams.


Current membership totals 54 having been 36 when a membership list was established in early 2006. Of these approximately 35% have submitted observations in various forms eg; CCD astrometry and photometry, images, occultation reports, video and visual astrometry and photometry.

Observations and discoveries

The vast majority of observations are received in electronic form. These are published monthly on the section website and archived to hard disk and subsequently to CD. The work of section members is regularly reported in ‘The Astronomer’ magazine. Paper reports are stored in their original form. Members are encouraged to send their observations to world wide repositories ie; astrometry to the Minor Planet Center, lightcurve photometry to Geneva Observatory and Occultation reports to the European Asteroid Occultation Network. Peter Birtwhistle’s discovery total had reached 96 by the end of February 2008.

Co-operation with other professional and amateur groups and individuals

Section members participated in the Spacewatch Fast Moving Object (FMO) Program by on-line image analysis and discovered two asteroids; 2005 UH5 by the Director and 2006 AT3 by Hazel McGee. Ellen Howell (National Astronomy and Ionospheric Centre, NAIC, Arecibo Observatory) and Mikko Kaasalainen (Helsinki University) were provided with photometric data to support radar observations and asteroid shape modeling respectively. The latter appeared in a paper ‘Physical models of ten asteroids from observers collaboration network’ by J Durech and others (including Martin Crow and the Director) published in Astronomy and Astrophysics. EURONEAR, The European Near Earth Asteroids Research, is a project to establish a coordinated network which will follow-up, recover and discover Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) and Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) using two automated dedicated 1 metre telescopes located in both hemispheres and other facilities available to the members of the network. The section has expressed an interest in participating in this project.

Section projects and observing programs

Alan Cahill ran Project Gandalf to assess the feasibility of using remotely operated robotic telescopes for asteroid observations. It concluded that only Global Rent-A-Scope was suitable but rather expensive. Richard Miles organised a successful observing campaign to obtain a lightcurve for NEO 2006 XD2. The Director and Assistant Director Richard Miles are presently supporting the Magnitude Alert Project run by the Minor Planet Section of the US Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers.

Section and other meetings

A very successful section meeting, hosted by Newbury AS, was held in June 2007. Speakers included Dr Alan Harris, Dr Mark, Kidger, Eamonn Ansbro and section officers. Total attendance was 39. The section also participated in BAA Exhibition meetings and several Back to Basics and Observer’s workshops.

Other major meetings attended by section officers were the EUROPLANET N3 Strategic Workshop “Stellar Occultation Studies” in Paris and Meeting on Asteroids and Comets in Europe in Vienna. Reports by the Director on the latter were published in the BAA Journal, the Comet Section and ARPS newsletters.

Presentations made by the Director

In addition to the workshops mentioned above the Director has made numerous presentations to local astronomical societies and been interviewed by Suffolk local radio station SGR.FM and had an article published in ‘Sky at Night’ magazine. A hand-out for teachers and other interested parties ‘Pluto – from Planet to Dwarf Planet’ was prepared for Bob Mizon (CfDS).

Assets and archives

The responsibility for these is shared between the Director and Richard Miles and include; a bookcase, books, plastic storage containers plus paper and electronic records. A number of personal letters written by the late Andrew Hollis were handed over to the Librarian (Tony Kinder) and a collection of documents relating to the formation of the section was received from Richard McKim. A number of books were obtained; some purchased from Matt Dawson and others transferred from the BAA library.


The section has seen significant growth in both membership and active observers over the past three years. Members make a significant contribution to the understanding of asteroids particularly in the fields of astrometry and lightcurve photometry.

Roger Dymock
Director Asteroids and Remote Planets Section

2008 – Present              Director, Richard Miles

Richard has been an Assistant Director of the Section since its formation and is well known and respected in both the amateur and professional communities of asteroid observers. This together with his expertise, particularly in the field of photometry, makes him eminently suitable for the position of Director.

25th anniversaries

2007    Formation of the Minor Planets Group within the Terrestrial Planets Section

2009    Creation of the Minor Planets Section

2010    Change of name to Asteroids and Remote Planets Section

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