"You catch a lot of people who might not have gone out of their way to go to the observatory," she said. "It's a very impactful thing that he has done."
First discovered in 1995, the Hale-Bopp comet was one of the most distant comets ever spotted by astronomers. Most comets haven't been seen beyond the orbit of Mars but the Hale-Bopp was found by Jupiter.
However, co-discoverer Thomas Bopp worked in construction as a manager at a materials factory when he first saw it. Alan Hale was a professionally-trained astronomer.
The pair spotted the comet the same evening independently of each other. Hale was at his home in New Mexico, and Bopp was with friends in the desert in Arizona.
Robert Evans became interested in astronomy as teenager in high school. With small refractor made from rolls of paper, a cardboard tube, a spectacle lens and an old eyepiece, he would vigilantly search the night sky.
But when it came time to choose a profession, Evans chose ministry over astronomy.
Still, the now retired Australian reverend holds the world record for visually identifying supernovas, rare exploding stars that are among the more important objects studied by astronomers.
Automated searches now replace most of the human observers, but Evans has spotted 42 supernovas the old-fashioned way.
"He just goes out every chance he gets," said ASP's Gurton. "He has a photographic memory and knows what each galaxy should look like. If he sees something brighter, he knows he's discovered a supernova."
His spotting skills have earned him membership to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, the International Astronomical Union and other accolades.