A University of Calgary researcher has identified a previously unknown comet, which will now bear his name.

Robert Cardinal, who works with the university's Rothney Astrophysical Observatory studying asteroids, said he was amazed when he found it.

"I couldn't believe it when I saw it, this big, bright object. It was really astonishing."

The Cardinal Comet, formally C2008 T2, is the first to be found by the observatory, located near Priddis, Alta., about 50 kilometres southwest of the university campus.

The comet, a solid icy core surrounded by an atmosphere with one or two tails, is believed to be debris remaining from the gas, ice, rocks and dust that formed the outer planets, the NASA website said. 

Comets are very old, approximately five billion years, Cardinal said.

Most are too small or too far away to be seen by the naked eye, but may become visible as they near the sun when light is reflected from the gas and dust in their tails.

The new comet has been travelling from just inside Pluto for about 39 years, and may be visible with binoculars early in 2009, Cardinal said.

Computer consultant Vance Petriew of Saskatchewan, an amateur astronomer, discovered a comet in 2001.