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Updates from Past Recipients of the Shoemaker NEO Grants

Posted by Bruce Betts

18-07-2006 12:00 CDT

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

2005 recipients: James Ashley, Peter Birtwhistle, David Higgins, Gianluca Masi, Erich Meyer
2002 recipients: John Broughton, Matt Dawson, Roy Tucker
2000 recipients: Tabare Gallardo, Herman Mikuz

James Ashley, Minor Planet Research (2005 Grant Winner)
Fountain Hills, Arizona, USA

Update as of July 13, 2006

Using the Shoemaker NEO Grant funds, Minor Planet Research has purchased a 1.7-terabyte data server for our Asteroid Discovery Station (ADS) education outreach program  Through the generosity of Dr. Philip Christensen, this server is housed at the Mars Space Flight Facility (MSFF) at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. Significantly for the Asteroid Discovery Station program, the facility is also headquarters for the ASU Mars Education Program, which has an interest in augmenting its current Mars data outreach curricula with supplementary remote sensing data for additional planetary bodies in the solar system. Asteroid discovery using telescopic images in the format offered by the Asteroid Discovery Station is seen as a suitable match for these objectives. Minor Planet Research is therefore honored to announce its partnership with the ASU Mars Education Program at MSFF; an operation that has nearly 15 years of additional experience in bringing authentic data into the classroom.

Prior to receiving The Planetary Society Gene Shoemaker NEO Grant award, Minor Planet Research had just enough leased space on its data server for a single imaged region of sky (comprising approximately 128 megabytes) from the Lowell Observatory Near Earth Object Search (LONEOS) program, with which Minor Planet Research cooperates. At this size, it was required that the previous region be deleted from the server before space could be had for additional images. A typical night of LONEOS observing may image up to 70 such regions. Thanks to The Planetary Society, Minor Planet Research now has the storage capacity for approximately 13,280 regions, representing hundreds of night-volumes of data. These will encompass both archived and virgin data images for use with the Asteroid Discovery Station systems, in accordance with Minor Planet Research’s Observing Program and Memorandum of Understanding with LONEOS.

Minor Planet Research currently has three Asteroid Discovery Station programs in various stages of development, and will be initiating use of the new dataset in the coming months. The following summaries illustrate the status of each of the programs:

Arizona State University Mars Education Program, Tempe, Arizona

The ASU Mars Education Program is currently working on curriculum development and teacher training for the Asteroid Discovery Station within an evolving timeline. The joint venture will emphasize inquiry-based, standards-aligned curriculum development that will easily be incorporated and embraced in the classroom.

Challenger Space Center, Peoria, Arizona

Growing in concept since 2003, the Challenger Space Center is Minor Planet Research’s initial Asteroid Discovery Station outpost. Most recently, an asteroid club was initiated with the Arrowhead Elementary School in the greater Phoenix area through Challenger’s auspices for the Asteroid Discovery Station program. Teachers have been trained on the computers to use the system, and permission slips have been prepared for use at the beginning of the next school year. Meanwhile, Challenger has incorporated the Asteroid Discovery Station into one of its summer camp programs. Students train first using practice images, and then switch over to conduct the important work of scanning for objects in the database images. Challenger is using computers purchased specifically for the Asteroid Discovery Station on a grant awarded by the City of Peoria.

Carter Observatory, Wellington, New Zealand

Located high on a bluff overlooking the city of Wellington, Carter Observatory is the National Observatory of New Zealand. A workshop was conducted by Minor Planet Research last year at Carter Observatory to train staff on the system and assist in setup. In July 2006 Carter Observatory received independent funding from the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology for their Asteroid Discovery Station curriculum development and program operations. In addition, a local astronomy enthusiast has recently donated six computers to the project. Carter hopes to be in operation in August/September 2006. The Carter Observatory Asteroid Discovery Station represents Minor Planet Research’s first Southern Hemisphere facility, and demonstrates the utility of the system at a remote location.

As we fine-tune the day-to-day operations of these systems, Minor Planet Research anticipates adding educational facilities from additional locations around the globe. Please let me know if I can provide any further materials or information, and once again, thank you and the Gene Shoemaker NEO Grant committee for their understanding and generosity.

Peter Birtwhistle (2005 Grant Winner)
Berkshire, England

Update as of June 18, 2006

The Shoemaker Grant was used to upgrade an Apogee AP47p CCD to a U47+ (USB connected) model at Great Shefford Observatory, Berkshire, England, during August and September 2005.  This modification allows much faster image downloads and has in practice resulted in 45% more light being collected than before.  This combined with an earlier telescope upgrade from a 0.3-meter diameter to a 0.4-meter in June 2005 has enabled objects at least one magnitude fainter to be recorded.  These improvements and some software changes have made the system much better at tracking faint fast moving NEOs close to Earth.

In the nine months following the CCD upgrade the new equipment has performed very well, with 5 NEOCP objects being confirmed as comets and several fragments of Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann being discovered.  However, the majority of time spent was on NEOCP confirmation and NEO follow-up work.  Great Shefford Observatory contributed astrometry to over 190 discovery MPECs published by the Minor Planet Center, including 84 first confirmations of newly discovered objects and 8 objects observed at magnitude +21.0 or fainter.  NEO follow-up observations were published in over 100 Daily Orbit Updates.  A number of fast-moving NEOs were followed, including three while they were closer than the Moon.

Techniques used at Great Shefford to help confirm fast moving NEOCP objects with large positional uncertainties using equipment and software available to amateurs have been described at http://www.birtwhistle.org/StackingTechniques.htm and further details of the CCD upgrade and the equipment in use at the observatory can be found at http://www.birtwhistle.org/Equipment.htm .

David Higgins (2005 Grant Winner)
Ngunnawal, Canberra, Australia

Update as of June 15, 2006

Hunters Hill was provided with a grant to purchase an SBIG ST-8E camera with filter wheel. The camera has fully enabled the observatory automation system.  This means that the observatory will operate hands-off from the moment it is opened to the moment it is closed.  Based on a simple observing list, the scope will point to the target; take a pointing image; re-point if necessary; focus; change filter as required; automatically acquire a guide star; start guiding; and then start imaging the chosen target. This operation is performed on multiple objects, all night long, unattended.

The result is that since the introduction of the camera, the observatory has been open 200% longer and has been able to capture images for more than 5 times the number of targets per automation. In the last 8 months the observatory has determined the light curve for more than 40 minor planets and near-Earth objects, yielding the discoveries of the binary nature of three minor planets (CBETs 507 - 4029 Bridges, 389 - 6084 Bascom and 431 - (17260) 2000 JQ58). Two other minor planets have been identified as probable binaries (6611) 1993 VW and 2501 Lohja. The findings from this light curve work have been published (or are accepted for publication) in the Minor Planet Bulletin with due acknowledgement of the Planetary Society and 2005 Gene Shoemaker Grant.

The most interesting target was 6084 Bascom. The binary nature of this object was captured using the camera funded by the Gene Shoemaker grant, the first discovery for this camera, and Bascom was discovered by Gene and Carolyn Shoemaker 21 years earlier in February 1985 -- a fitting coincidence.

Hunters Hill has also participated in joint collaboration with other amateur and professional observatories. Most recently attempts were made on 105 Artemis to support the radar work undertaken by researcher Ellen Howell at the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. The results have not been published.

A summary of the targets observed and results obtained by Hunters Hill can be found at: http://www.david-higgins.com/Astronomy/asteroid/lightcurves.htm

Gianluca Masi (2005 Grant Winner)
Campo Catino, Italy

Update as of July 18, 2006

The Shoemaker NEO Grant received by Gianluca Masi was used at the Observatory of Campo Catino to repair electronics and improve instrumentation on an 80-centimeter reflector, located at 1,500 meters elevation, under wonderfully dark skies. With the electronics repair completed and filters incorporated into the equipment, the telescope is now almost fully operational. At the same time, a local network and access to the Internet has been re-established, so the observatory is now really ready to start systematic NEO photometry and observations.

Unfortunately, particularly bad weather has prevented observing activity in past months; it has been a very unusually cold, long and snowy winter. For several months snow covered the dome and the telescope could not be operated. These summer nights are now used for final tuning. After the optics were lately properly cleaned and checked, some initial tests showed the real power of the instruments. This July, regular photometric observations have been started, so the NEO Grant helped to pump new life into a powerful telescope whose diameter qualifies it as one of the largest in use for systematic NEO physical observations (mainly photometry).

Upcoming months will, hopefully, provide more and more intriguing data helping to unveil the nature of those rocks, in perfect agreement with the mission and aim of the prestigious Shoemaker NEO Grant, for which I thank The Planetary Society.

Erich Meyer (2005 Grant Winner)
Davidschalg, Austria

Update as of July 2, 2006

The observing program at Davidschlag Observatory, has been focused on extended follow up of very faint NEOs after discovery. Thanks to The Planetary Society Shoemaker Grant I upgraded our 60cm f/3.3 telescope at the Davidschlag Observatory in Upper Austria, with a new CCD camera. I have bought the CCD camera STL-1001 (S.B.I.G.). This camera has a number of advantages: a very fast readout time, a large field of view (41 arcmin x 41 arcmin), and the camera has a considerably better SNR (signal to noise ratio) at my standard exposure times (between one and two minutes). The large field is important if objects have a large LOV (line of variation).

The upgrade was finished in February 2006. I was able to start the observations in March after the hardest winter in 30 years. This upgrade allows me to make observations of objects dimmer than previously possible, up to magnitude +22 or, in some cases, fainter. This upgrade also allows observations of objects with a very fast proper motion. When an NEO can be observed over a longer period following discovery -- at a time when the object is well-located, but is often very dim -- the size of the area that must be searched in a future recovery effort can be significantly reduced.

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

Update as of June 17, 2006

A 2002 grant enabled me to operate closer to the pointy end of observational astronomy than otherwise would have been the case. This past year I have worked principally in survey mode with the intention over time of covering all observable fields in the least scrutinized part of the sky south of -20º declination. The search procedure enables detection of near-Earth and distant moving objects and other variable phenomena, from which came these discovery highlights:

  • 3 new cataclysmic variable stars
  • 2005 NB21 - a Hilda-type asteroid outside the main belt.
  • 2005 NY39 - a near-Earth Amor asteroid.
  • 2005 QQ75 - a Mars-crosser just missing NEO classification
  • P/2005 T5 (Broughton) - a periodic comet.
  • 2006 JE26 - an asteroid in an unstable Jupiter-approaching orbit.
  • 2006 LD1 - a potentially hazardous Apollo asteroid

I was also first to spot the potentially hazardous Aten asteroid 2005 XT77 but my single observation did not meet the MPC requirement for assigning discovery credit and I was unable to relocate the object prior to an independent discovery by LONEOS.

Another area of interest has yielded observations of 16 planetary occultations since I started using the camera provided by the grant. These happen to include three targets of current space missions: asteroids Lutetia (future target of Rosetta) and Vesta (future target of Dawn), and, most recently, planet Pluto on June 12. The CCD methods I developed have been endorsed by IOTA as an alternative to video and use of my software by astrocamera owners is on the rise.

 
See other posts from July 2006

 

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

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