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Updates from Past Recipients of the Shoemaker NEO Grants

Posted by Bruce Betts

16-04-2004 12:00 CDT

Topics: Planetary Society, Planetary Society Projects, Shoemaker NEO Grants, near-Earth asteroids

Roy Tucker (2002 Grant Winner)
Tucson, Arizona, USA

Update as of March 24, 2004

2003 was a good year with 50,779 asteroid astrometric observations submitted, including known NEOs and the discovery of a new Aten-class object, 2003 UY12. Based upon the volume of astrometric observations submitted, observatory code 683 was the world's eighth most productive asteroid astrometry station. In August, the pointing of the system was moved south to two degrees, 5 minutes declination to begin the detection of variable stars in this band of sky while continuing the asteroid search effort.

The MOTESS instrument of Goodricke-Pigott Observatory was developed as a prototype to determine the effectiveness of such a design. I believe the results are very encouraging. The PinPoint moving-object detection software has matured to the point that a single person in two to three hours can process a night's images. Although I compete with the major professional surveys, the system continues to yield a steady stream of new asteroid discoveries, 162 during 2003, providing confidence that the system will continue to be productive for many years. A good night typically produces observations of about 300 asteroids, almost 900 total observations. A paper describing the MOTESS instrumentation may be previewed online here.

There is considerable interest in extending the Spaceguard search to objects smaller than one kilometer. It is interesting to note that the four NEO discoveries made at this facility range in size from about one-half kilometer to about 100 meters (absolute magnitude 19.2 to 23.6). Now that the system has demonstrated its capabilities, an effort is being made to build more instruments to cover more sky. Six more telescopes are now under construction and are expected to be operational in September. This will triple the sky coverage to approximately 360 square degrees per night. A proposal has been submitted to the NSF to build even more instruments. A decision on this proposal is expected soon.

Besides searching for Near-Earth Asteroids, these additional instruments will participate in an astrobiology project of the National Optical Astronomy Observatories and the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory. This effort will involve the regular photometric monitoring of solar-type stars of various ages to determine how variable such stars are typically. This is important in order to judge the likelihood of life-supporting planets orbiting such stars.

The Shoemaker Grant provided by The Planetary Society has been very helpful in achieving the level of performance the system now enjoys. Again, my thanks to The Planetary Society for its support.

John Broughton (2002 Grant Winner)
Reedy Creek, Queensland, Australia

Update as of April 16, 2004

The 2002 NEO grant has sparked a major upgrade in capability at my observatory in eastern Australia. The funds allowed purchase of a large format CCD camera which initially has been used on a 10" LX200 telescope. In the then absence of a professional southern hemisphere NEO survey, areas beyond 25 degrees south declination were scanned for new objects and known NEOs were targeted for follow-up observations.

Around 7000 images last year produced a similar number of minor planet positional measures, 10% of which were NEOs. Of 260 discoveries, the most interesting was mile-wide 2003 LX5 which is destined to become a NEO in 2009 after an aphelic perturbation by Jupiter and its potential to make very close encounters with Mars makes it doubly significant.

Contrasting with such an intensive program was one involving serendipitous observations of a score of asteroidal occultations, producing positive results for 5 events. Procedures were developed to accurately time these events using CCD star drift imaging as an alternative to the more limiting visual and video methods used by almost all other observers.

Using my own resources as pledged in the grant proposal, the second phase of the observatory upgrade involved a robotic 20" F/3.6 coma-corrected Newtonian that I constructed during the last 2 off-seasons. Scanning tests began on April 10 2004 and a batch of observations reported to the Minor Planet Center 2 days later. Subsequent observations of the very first newly designated object, 2004 GA1 showed it to be a potentially hazardous asteroid exceeding 1 kilometer in size.

James McGaha (2002 Grant Winner)
Tucson, Arizona, USA

Update as of March 25, 2004

The computerized upgrade of Grasslands telescope (Grasslands Observatory 651) took almost three months to complete (10 Oct. 2002 to 2 Jan. 2003). The telescope was not usable during this period. A lightning strike nearby caused static discharge (no equipment was plugged into outlets) jump to a cable destroying a computer and controller at a cost of $4000.00. The telescope was out of operation for repairs from 4 Aug. to 28 Sept. 2003.
In spite of these setbacks, 2003 was a very good year. Some 2003 Observations

  • 1st Night after upgrade (2 Jan.) 8 NEOCP objects observed, resulting in 4 NEO MPEC’s
  • Total of 67 NEO MPEC’s for the year
  • 4 NEOCP Objects discovered to be Comets:
    • 5 Aug. C/2003 O3 IAUC 8174
    • 1 Oct. C/2003 S4 IAUC 8213
    • 14 Oct. C/2003 T2 IAUC 8222
    • 15 Oct. C/2003 T4 IAUC 8224
  • Optical Identification of GRB 030329
  • Astrometry and Photometry of IAUC 8102

Some 2004 Observations:

  • On 18 Jan. 9 NEOCP objects Observed Resulting in 9 NEO MPEC’s
    • All 9 were fainter than 20th magnitude
    • 4 were fainter than 21st magnitude
    • 1 was fainter than 22nd magnitude
  • For 3 of these NEOs, we got the only follow-up:
    • MPEC 2004 B08
    • MPEC 2004 B09
    • MPEC 2004 B22

Richard Kowalski (2002 Grant Winner)
Zephyrhills, Florida, USA

Update as of September 16, 2003

The Minor Planet Mailing List has continued to grow and provide a vital service to the minor planet and NEO community during the past year. Our membership has steadily grown and now lists nearly 770 subscribers. Since its inception, MPML has provided the only direct form of communications between the professional astronomers who study asteroids, the NEO survey teams finding these objects, and the serious and recreational amateurs who also provide additional useful astrometric and photometric observations. The amateur contributions in this field provide valuable telescope time at little or no cost.

As in previous years, the Minor Planet Mailing List has been a conduit for requests of targeted observations. These requests range from follow up observations to keep newly discovered objects from being lost, recovery campaigns of "lost" NEOs, as well as astrometric observations of close approachers, so Radar observations of these objects might be obtained with the radio telescopes at Goldstone and Arecibo. MPML has recently started working with the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers to enlist backyard observers in an effort to provide photometric observations of NEOs so we can mathematically deduce the shapes of these objects by combining multiple lightcurve observations.

MPML continues to grow and evolve to meet the needs of the NEO community. The Planetary Society's Shoemaker NEO Grant allows this list to continue providing its valuable services to the NEO community worldwide.

Jana Ticha (2000 Grant Winner)
KLENOT Telescope, South Bohemia, Czech Republic

Update as of March 31, 2004

Thanks to The Planetary Society Shoemaker Grant, the 1.06-meter KLENOT telescope was completed at the Klet Observatory. The first light of the KLENOT telescope was on Nov. 17, 2001. Regular observations of the KLENOT project started in March 2002 under the new IAU/MPC code 246.

Altogether 21,000 astrometric positions have been obtained, and more than 30% of them (more than 6,290 of them) have been astrometric measurements of Near Earth Asteroids (NEA). Considering such number of follow-up astrometry, KLENOT Project belongs to the most prolific NEO follow-up stations all over the world.

By March 2004, more than 250 newly discovered NEAs were confirmed using precise astrometric measurement, 57 Virtual Impactors were eliminated by our astrometric work, and for 19 newly discovered bodies were confirmed to be comets. Among faint NEA discoveries were Amor-type asteroids 2002 ET11 and 2004 ET21, both discovered by the Spacewatch team, and showing visual magnitudes of 21.9 and 22.0 at the time that they were observed. We also confirmed LINEAR discovery 2004 FH, the closest pass of a natural object detected near Earth.

The most remarkable KLENOT results include discoveries of Apollo-type Near Earth asteroid 2002 LK and Aten-type Near Earth Asteroid 2003 UT55 (the smallest asteroid discovered in Europe so far), recoveries of 11 Near Earth Asteroids, and recovery of peculiar pair of distant comets C/2002 A1 (LINEAR) and C/2002 A2 (LINEAR), which are of common origin.

Several distant objects (TNOs, Centaurs, SDOs) were also astrometrically measured to lengthen their observed arc; the most remarkable ones are possible inner Oort cloud object 2003 VB12, preliminary called "Sedna".

These observations have been published in the Minor Planet Electronic Circulars (MPECs), IAUCs and then summarized in monthly issues of the Minor Planet Circulars. The first KLENOT NEO results were presented at the Asteroids Comets Meteors 2002 international conference in Berlin.

Tabare Gallardo (2000 Grant Winner)
Los Molinos Astronomical Observatory, near Montevideo, Uruguay

Update as of April 2, 2004

The grant from the Planetary Society was used to buy a CCD camera (ST-9E) and a filter wheel CFW-8, from Santa Barbara Instrument Group. We use the CCD ST9-E for image acquisition with a Centurion 0.46 m /f2.8 reflector. This telescope is devoted to the B.U.S.C.A. program; a NEO Survey in the Southern Hemisphere, which started survey observations in March, 2002. In the meantime, we are developing and improving the software and hardware. Our goal is to develop a full automated observatory, which will be located in a darker area of the countryside. The institutes involved in the in the project are: The Dept. Astronomy (Faculty of Sciences) and the Observatorio Astronómico Los Molinos OALM (Minister of Education and Culture). Their main research topic is the study of minor bodies of the Solar System.

The CFW-8 filter wheel is being used with a ST7-E CCD attached to a 0.35 m/f 4.6 reflector. This reflector is dedicated to follow-up astrometric observations, and also used by university students to perform photometric observations (mostly of bright observable comets), to develop their observational skills. The filters also allow us to acquire color images for divulgation purposes.

The Observatorio Astronómico Los Molinos (OALM) has a strong commitment in outreach activities. More than 10,000 persons visit the Observatory every year, most of them are primary and secondary students. Almost hundred people visit us in our monthly open house. Several amateur groups have their instruments in the Observatory campus.

Since the Centurion survey telescope has the capability to be controlled through the Web, we plan to offer the telescope to the public. The days around full moon are not useful for the survey due to the sky brightness. We plan to let students and amateur groups control the telescope during these days. They have to submit an observational proposal to us, to be evaluated for the educational and astronomical contents, and if accepted, they will be able to acquire the images (with the ST9-E CCD) and process them with our support.

This project will start on May 23, 2004, and soon there will be information available on the OALM Web site.

Herman Mikuz (2000 Grant Winner)
Crni Vrh Observatory, Slovenia

Update as of March 25, 2004

With the Shoemaker grant we covered costs for 60-cm robotic telescope motors and drive electronics, as well as workshop labor for various telescope parts. The telescope was finished and put in operation in September 2002. More information about the telescope and its construction can be found online.

The telescope performs nicely. It is mainly used for scanning purposes, NEO, comet and other transient objects observations. Discoveries and follow-up observations:

  • about 90 new main belt designations
  • 2 NEO discoveries in 2003 (2003 EM1, 2003 SS214)
  • follow-up observations for 22 newly discovered NEOs were provided and published in MPECs
  • follow-up observations for 8 newly discovered comets
  • confirmation observations for 4 newly discovered comets (IAUC 8098, 8122, 8213)

Your grant was extremely helpful and of crucial importance for completing the 60-cm robotic telescope which we believe will produce important NEO observations and discoveries in future. Keep up your good work!

 
See other posts from April 2004

 

Or read more blog entries about: Planetary Society, Planetary Society Projects, Shoemaker NEO Grants, near-Earth asteroids

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