Special Issue : 10/01/2004
A scientific publication by SGF and NEODyS

The history of Hermes

An interview to Maura Tombelli (amateur astronomer) by Andrea Carusi - President SGF

Maura Tombelli, participated to the search of Hermes over the years as an amateur astronomer

Question: Can you tell us Hermes' story from the amateurs' point of view and how were you involved in the search over the years and in the rediscovery phase?

M. Tombelli: I really like feeling useful while I have fun: this is one of the feelings that move amateur astronomers.
Of course, I can't personally schedule or organize observing campaigns, but I was so lucky to work with reasearchers that have done it for me: Giuseppe Forti and Andrea Boattini.
Their personal work over the years to recover Hermes was very important: answering to Andrea's proposal, Beppe Forti calculated 10.000 possible orbits for this asteroid. Together with Luciano Tesi, director of the San Marcello Pistoiese Observatory, I collaborated to check out all these possible positions of Hermes. It was a real defeat and, during the years, I often doubted that Hermes could ever be rediscovered!

Question: How did you participate to the recovery phase?

M. Tombelli: In the afternoon of October 15th I received a call by Boattini (read Boattini's interview), asking me to observe an object that had been published a few hours before on the NEO Confirmation Page. At first, I answered that the weather didn't allow us to make any observation, since the strong wind would have probably moved the telescope.
Boattini then pointed out that the object was probably Hermes. Of course, I bolted out of my chair and promised that I would have tried to observe it at any price.
Luciano Tesi joined me, since the telescope at San Marcello wasn't operative at that time, and we worked hard making images over images before being able to obtain 3 photos that were good enough to measure the object's position and sent them to the MPC.
Unluckily, in the meantime, the circular announcing Hermes recovery was already online. Anyhow, we were happy to be among the first to rediscover the famous Hermes.

Question: Can you tell us how do amateurs participate in NEOs' science? Are there other famous discoveries you collaborated with?

M. Tombelli: I must say that I love and am proud of observing the sky, especially looking for NEOs.
When I am scheduling an observing night, I first look up the NEO Confirmation Page and the Spaceguard Foundation's Priority List and select the objects I could be able to observe. Maybe somone could think it is a hard work, but I am very happy doing it and, whatsmore, I really feel useful to the scientific community.

In the past, I personally participated to other recoveries, with direct observation or from photo plates from ESO and Palomar, always collaborating with Forti and Boattini. Among these, one of the most important was the prerecovery of the comet Swift-Tuttle on photo plates taken by the Schmidt telescope of Asiago, in January 1992.
At that time, I was collaborating with Roberto Haver and Andrea Boattini at the Observatory of Asiago, with two different scientific programs: the first was the recovery of the famous comet, with the orbits calculated by Beppe Forti, the second was to search for asteroids.
At the moment we weren't able to identify the comet, but afterwards, we discovered with great excitement that the comet had been captured on a couple of our plates taken 9 months before the recovery!
Of course, the greatest role in this story was played by Prof. Forti and Roberto Haver.
But the plates were at my home when Andrea Boattini's careful eye catched the comet on them after the September recovery was recalculated. So I can say "I was there too!".