Australian minister Robert Evans holds an unusual record: He’s discovered 42 supernovae by eye. Using a staggeringly retentive memory, he’s memorized the appearance of more than a thousand galaxies and can spot changes in them simply by looking at them through a telescope.
This preternatural ability has made him a sort of John Henry: He began hunting supernovae in 1955, and it was only in the 1990s that automated telescopes began to scan the sky with comparable quickness and accuracy. He kept up with them for a time, but they’ve now outpaced any single person.
“There’s something satisfying, I think, about the idea of light travelling for millions of years through space and just at the right moment as it reaches Earth someone looks at the right bit of sky and sees it,” he’s said. “It just seems right that an event of that magnitude should be witnessed.”