A group of year 11 pupils at Horbury Academy in Wakefield were given the co-ordinates of a possible comet by Nick Howes, a manager at the Faulkes Telescope Project.
Based at the University of Glamorgan, the project enables schools to access live images from a global network of robotic telescopes.
Led by their teacher, Paul Campbell, the Horbury youngsters used computers in the school classroom to access and control Faulkes’ telescopes in Hawaii and Australia.
After spotting what had originally been described as “an asteroidal object” they sent off their data to the Minor Planet Centre in Massachussetts.
The following day they got the news that they had identified a new comet, which has been given the name C/2013 G9 (Tenagra).
The students, who are all studying GCSE astronomy and will be sitting their exam this month, are full of excitement about their discovery.
In a report for the Faulkes Telescope Project they wrote: “We can’t believe it and we are literally over the moon.
“We never in our wildest dreams thought we would take our astronomy course to this level. It is an amazing discovery and one we will remember for the rest of our lives. We’re looking forward to our next session to see what else the universe holds for us.”
Mr Campbell, who is head of year 10 at Horbury Academy and a keen astronomer himself, paid tribute to his students’ work.
“Nick Howes got the co-ordinates for us and he was able to pick up our observations and do the data reduction which then went off to the Minor Planet Centre,” he said.
“It’s a fantastic achievement for all the astronomers involved and an immense achievement for the academy and the students – a perfect end to their astronomy GCSE course.”