Evans's is a talent so exceptional that Oliver Sacks, in An Anthropologist on Mars, devotes a passage to him in a chapter on autistic savants—quickly adding that "there is no suggestion that he is autistic." Evans, who has not met Sacks, laughs at the suggestion that he might be either autistic or a savant, but he is powerless to explain quite where his talent comes from.
"I just seem to have a knack for memorizing star fields," he told me, with a frankly apologetic look, when I visited him and his wife, Elaine, in their picture-book bungalow on a tranquil edge of the village of Hazelbrook, out where Sydney finally ends and the boundless Australian bush begins. "I'm not particularly good at other things," he added. "I don't remember names well."
"Or where he's put things," called Elaine from the kitchen.
He nodded frankly again and grinned, then asked me if I'd like to see his telescope. I had imagined that Evans would have a proper observatory in his backyard—a scaled-down version of a Mount Wilson or Palomar, with a sliding domed roof and a mechanized chair that would be a pleasure to maneuver. In fact, he led me not outside but to a crowded storeroom off the kitchen where he keeps his books and papers and where his telescope—a white cylinder that is about the size and shape of a household hot-water tank—rests in a homemade, swiveling plywood mount.
When he wishes to observe, he carries them in two trips to a small deck off the kitchen. Between the overhang of the roof and the feathery tops of eucalyptus trees growing up from the slope below, he has only a letter-box view of the sky, but he says it is more than good enough for his purposes. And there, when the skies are clear and the Moon not too bright, he finds his supernovae.