So when a hopeful and softspoken minister got in touch to ask if they had any usable field charts for hunting supernovae, the astronomical community thought he was out of his mind. At the time Evans had a ten-inch telescope—a very respectable size for amateur stargazing but hardly the sort of thing with which to do serious cosmology—and he was proposing to find one of the universe's rarer phenomena.
In the whole of astronomical history before Evans started looking in 1980, fewer than sixty supernovae had been found. (At the time I visited him, in August of 2001, he had just recorded his thirty-fourth visual discovery; a thirty-fifth followed three months later and a thirty-sixth in early 2003.)
Evans, however, had certain advantages. Most observers, like most people generally, are in the northern hemisphere, so he had a lot of sky largely to himself, especially at first. He also had speed and his uncanny memory. Large telescopes are cumbersome things, and much of their operational time is consumed with being maneuvered into position. Evans could swing his little sixteen-inch telescope around like a tail gunner in a dogfight, spending no more than a couple of seconds on any particular point in the sky. In consequence, he could observe perhaps four hundred galaxies in an evening while a large professional telescope would be lucky to do fifty or sixty.