Bester MJ

BESTER, Michiel (Mike) John
Professional Astronomer
Born: 16 May 1917 at Colesburg, South Africa.
Died: 15 April 2005 Bethal, South Africa.


In brief :
Famous for:
• Mike Bester, together with William Reid jointly holds the distinction as South Africa’s foremost comet discoverer. Each discovered six comets.
• Bester acted as astronomer in charge of Boyden Observatory. This was during the 1951 – 1968 time period when there was no director appointed to the Observatory.

Historical background :
Michiel John Bester (Mike) was born on 16 May 1917 in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa at the town of Colesberg. Mike matriculated (Standard Twelve) from high school in Philipolis (present day Free-State Province). His father worked at the mines in Brakpan (present day Gauteng Province) and died in 1925 at the young age of 35 from phthisis. Due to his fathers early death Bester was forced to find work and ended up with a paint company.
In 1937 he applied for a post advertised as an observing assistant at Boyden Observatory. After being interviewed by the Director, J S Paraskevopoulos, Bester commenced working on 1 December 1937 and retired on 1 December 1982, 45 years later.
During his career Bester discovered six comets, which is the South African record. He jointly share this distinction with William Reid. All of Bester’s comets were discovered whilst examining photographic plates taken by the Bache or Metcalf telescopes. For a list of his discoveries see Addendum A.
Mike married Engerda Barnard, a teacher from Bloemfontein on 2 July 1940. They lived in one of the observatory residences on the Boyden property, and had three daughters named Ellen, Martie and Micheline.
On retirement they moved to large house on a farm owned by friends of theirs (Pieter and Marie Kemp) near the town of Davel in present day Mpumalanga. There they enjoyed retirement to the full, in good health and many friends. Bester was a keen gardener and cultivated a large vegetable garden.
Engerda died on 13 July 1991 from a heart attack.
In the last years of his life Bester lived in a old age home in Bethal, and he died on 15 April 2005 at the age of 87.
• 1917 May 16: Born in Colesburg.
• 1925: Mike Bester’s father dies and Mike starts working for a paint factory.
• 1937 – 1982: See Career.
• 1940 July 2: Marry Engerda Barnard.
• 1982 : Retire and move to a farm near the town of Davel.
• 1991 July 13: Engerda die of a heart attack.
• 2005 April 15: Mike Bester die at an old age home near Bethal.


Link to the Telescope Manufacturers.


Link to the Main Bibliography Section and more information about Sources.


Remaining Artefacts:
Moore, P. & Collins, P., Astronomy in Southern Africa, p.122; p.128. (General Source)
Obituary, MNASSA vol 64,Nos 7 & 8, August 2005, pp 118 – 119.
Smits, P., A Brief History of Astronomy in Southern Africa. (Unpublished).
By Astronomer:Addendum A: Comets discovered by Mike Bester.
• C/1946U1 – 1 November 1946. Peak Magnitude 9.
• C/1947F1 – 14 March 1947. Peak Magnitude 5. Independently discovered two day later by Rondanina at Montevideo Observatory.
• C/1047K1 – 18 May 1947.
• C/1947C1 – 25 September 1947. Peak Magnitude 5.
• C/1948W1 – 24 November 1948.
• C/1959O1 Bester-Hoffmeister – 26 July 1959. This comet was found on photographic plates taken for the visiting astronomer Cuno Hoffmeister on 26 and 31 July.



Photo Source: A.S.S.A. Symposium 2002: Paper 18 Cooper: A History of Comet Discovery from South Africa


Bester in his later years.