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Hawaii Ham Discovers a Comet and it gets named after her

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio News' started by KH6OWL, Mar 23, 2019.

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  1. KH6OWL

    KH6OWL Ham Member QRZ Page

    WH6FTQ, Dr. Heather A. Flewelling, works for the Institute for Astronomy, which is part of the University of Hawaii. Dr. Flewelling has a PhD in Physics from the University of Michigan.

    She is currently working on ATLAS, Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System, ATLAS is an asteroid impact early warning system being developed by the University of Hawaii and funded by NASA. It consists of two telescopes, 100 miles apart, which automatically scan the whole sky several times every night looking for moving objects. Heather has a very cool job title "Planetary Defense Researcher".

    ATLAS ( , is a set of 0.5 meter telescopes, one on Haleakala, Maui, one on Maunaloa, Hawaii. Atlas has discovered 283 Near-Earth Asteroids, 31 Potentially hazardous asteroids, 16 comets and 3082 supernovas.


    Heather was at work on the morning of discovery. “Each morning, we look through the previous night's data to search for and report new asteroids. Occasionally we find comets and artificial satellites.”

    Dr. Flewelling stated "to report the comet, I noted that it had a tail, measured it (the size, brightness, and position), compared it to nearby stars, and submitted the observations to the Minor Planet Center with a message that I detected cometary activity. Once submitted, it was listed on the Potential Comet Confirmation Page, and other astronomers did follow up observations to confirm.”
    Flewelling Comet.jpg
    Another really cool thing she was a huge part of that happened this year was releasing the world's largest astronomical database: .

    This database, called Pan-STARRS DR2, has been referred to the size of taking 2 billion selfies or 15 times of the volume of the Library of Congress.

    Heather is very active in Hawaii in amateur radio; she is a NCS for a nightly net, involved in Simplex nets as well as Hiking and activating mountaintops for SOTA. She has been an NCS for Skywarn several times, starting with Hurricane Lane in 2018.

    She got her license on May 8, 2018 and upgraded to Extra on Field Day 2018.

    Comet Flewelling (Comet 2019 D1) discovered in Hawaii.

    The International Astronomical Union Minor Planet Center named the comet on 21 March 2019. The comet was named “Comet Flewelling”,(Comet 2019 D1).

    Heather said she enjoys everything about ham radio. Especially anything with simplex, hiking, or trying to make long distance contacts.

    When asked why she got an amateur radio license? Heather replied “I got an SDR radio as an impulse item last year. These are the ones you can get for about $10, plug into your computer, and pick up FM radio stations. I discovered the ham bands and a few other bands. It was fascinating, and I couldn't stop exploring the bands. Once I found out the ham bands were quite active in Honolulu, I got my license as fast as possible. I assumed I would immediately jump into HF. It turns out it was quite out of my budget as well as somewhat difficult to do in a condo. Instead, I discovered how much fun VHF/UHF is! I particularly like simplex and summits on the air (SOTA), but I also really like how welcoming and friendly the ham community is. Ham radio is something I should have gotten into a long time ago. I'm trying to make up for lost time now!”

    You can visit Heather’s QRZ page at
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 24, 2019
    N3UBI, KA8UGB, N8WXT and 16 others like this.
  2. W1YW

    W1YW Ham Member QRZ Page

    Pretty cool!

    Lotsa astronomers are hams BTW....
    PY3FJ, N2AMM, N4FZ and 3 others like this.
  3. W0PV

    W0PV Ham Member QRZ Page

    For me the best part of this story is,

    "When asked why she got an amateur radio license? Heather replied “I got an SDR radio as an impulse item last year. These are the ones you can get for about $10, plug into your computer, and pick up FM radio stations. I discovered the ham bands and a few other bands. It was fascinating, and I couldn't stop exploring the bands."

    That proves that "The Magic" is still present in amateur radio. The same quality that attracted me and I bet many others of my generation.

    But, incredibly, from WH6FTQ Zed bio, "Ham radio is a hobby I should have gotten into years ago. As a kid, I would build crazy antennas at my mom's house, in order to pick up 'far away' FM broadcast stations and TV stations ... I don't think I heard about ham radio until I was an adult ..." o_O

    In a similar manner the lure for me started about age 9 hearing distant AM stations at night and wondering how that happened. A bit later a friend of my older brother brought over a Heath GC-1A Mohican so they could listen to WLS while building a boat. Whoa! Look at the slide-rule dial! What are all those other bands? (But I wasn't allowed to touch it :mad:)

    Take a year or two off as my family moved to another city. But my mother noted the radio interest and purchased me a Knight Space Spanner kit. That really fanned the passion. So she alerted my middle school teachers. Soon I was introduced to the father of another student, Russ WØIFS (SK), who kindly became my ham Elmer. The rest is history.

    Its a shame if Amateur Radio should escape recognition by an interested kid today.

    Very glad that Heather is, finally, now with us. :)

    73, John, WØPV
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2019
    N8WXT, KB3ZAA, N2AMM and 4 others like this.
  4. VA3ECO

    VA3ECO Ham Member QRZ Page

    I love the picture showing the J pole, bare feet, and duct tape!!
    Great article, and great QRZ page, Heather.
    I hope to meet you on the bands someday.
    -Chris VA3ECO
    N4FZ and KH6OWL like this.
  5. W1YW

    W1YW Ham Member QRZ Page

    Dang those crazy antennas! They get astronomers into trouble!

    I love the picture of her boyfriend holding the J-POLE.

    "Just hold it for a little while longer...."


    N2AMM, NK9Y, W0PV and 1 other person like this.
  6. G3SEA

    G3SEA Ham Member QRZ Page

    Nice article !

    Hopefully we here in Hawaii as a tiny target will continue to avoid a hit
    but even one of those rocks hitting the ocean will give me one hell of a looooong ride on my long board :cool:

    The folks at the UH Institute of Astronomy do sterling work in this regard especially on the pan-STARRS scope on Haleakala.

    Congrats Heather !

    W9VMP, N2AMM and KH6OWL like this.
  7. K7FD

    K7FD Subscriber QRZ Page

    Her story,'s all good. There's hope for the hobby yet!
  8. KY5U

    KY5U Subscriber QRZ Page

    Dr. Heather look-alike:

    Screenshot from 2019-03-26 09-56-04.png
  9. N1OOQ

    N1OOQ Ham Member QRZ Page

    Yah, most new comets are picked up by those asteroid - scanning automated telescopes these days. The days of hunching over the eyepiece at the crack of dawn are nearly over.
  10. WH6DWF

    WH6DWF Ham Member QRZ Page

    I am very proud of Heather in so many ways. This is just
    one of her many accomplishments.
    The first time she got on the 146.980 mhz repeater, I became her Elmer, with her 1-2 word sentences, got her to relax enough to make the QSO last an hour and make longer formed sentences, lol.
    She knew that I was the NCS for the EARC club nets, we were short for net controllers and I talked her into volunteering. It was during this QSO that figured right away she could become a net controller and began training her. I was the NCS for Ham Nation at the time and just knew she was going to do well in Amateur radio. I then volunteered her to be one of my net controllers for my 3rd Annual Hedy Lamaar N9H Special Event Station, a 12 hour net last year and she was a big hit!
    During Hurricane Lane, a CAT 4 hurricane due to take a direct hit on the island of Oahu, we were really short of net controllers for the NWS Skywarn Program at the UH-Manoa campus. I volunteered her again to Clem KH7HO, the Skywarn coordinator even though she had never been through the training, I had to convince the coordinator she could do the job and she was fantastic! She showed up with a sleeping bag along with food & water for everyone.
    I volunteered her for the World Amateur Radio Day coming up on April 18th on the World Conference Server ECHOIRLP 9251.
    I took the above pic of Heather WH6FTQ during Grid Madness last year at Sandy’s Beach and you would never guess her occupation when first meeting her in person. The pic below is from a SOTA Activation to the top of Diamond Head recently. Expect many great things from Heather in the future!

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Mar 26, 2019

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