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Updates from Past Recipients of the Shoemaker NEO Grants

Posted by Bruce Betts

01-03-2007 11:00 CST

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

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

Update as of March 4, 2007

Thanks to The Planetary Society Shoemaker Grant, the 1.06-meter KLENOT telescope optics was completed at the Klet Observatory. Regular observations of the KLENOT project started in March 2002 under the new IAU/MPC code 246, so we can now present results covering 5 years of this work.

It is dedicated especially to confirmation, follow-up, and recovery of NEOs. We placed higher priority on fainter objects up to magnitude 22 as well as faster-moving objects.

From March 2002 to March 2007 altogether 11,225 astrometric measurements of near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) have been obtained. 520 newly discovered NEAs were confirmed using precise astrometric measurement, 123 Virtual Impactors detected by CLOMON and SENTRY systems were measured astrometrically, and 16 NEAs were recovered.

Although our main goal is follow-up astrometry of NEOs, the KLENOT results include several asteroid discoveries:

  • Apollo-type NEA 2002 LK (closest Earth approach 0.023 AU)
  • Aten-type NEA 2003 UT55 (closest Earth approach 0.0074 AU)
  • Apollo-type NEA 2006 XR4 (closest Earth approach 0.00401 AU)
  • asteroid on cometary orbit 2004 RT109 ("Jupiter family asteroid")

An important related part of our work is devoted to comets, which form part of the near-Earth object population. The first step of recognizing this comet fraction is to analyze possible cometary features of newly discovered bodies.  Since March 2002 we have confirmed 32 newly discovered comets (i.e. we found cometary features of objects with unusual motion presented on the NEO Confirmation page). A natural further step should be to pursue the behavior of such cometary bodies i.e. to obtain observation data of near-Earth comet outbursts, fragmentation, splitting and so on. In the framework the KLENOT Project  we found nucleus duplicity of comet C/2004 S1 (Van Ness) and provided astrometric measurements of 17 fragments of comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann-3 including an independent detection of its several new fragments during its 2006 close approach to the Earth.

Several distant objects (TNOs, Centaurs, SDOs) were also astrometrically measured to lengthen their observed arc; to the most remarkable results belongs the precovery of one of the largest TNOs 2005 FY9 on images in the KLENOT Project archive.

All these observations have been published in the Minor Planet Electronic Circulars (MPECs), IAUCs, Minor Planet Circulars (MPC) and then summarized in several papers.

In addition to astronomical work, the KLENOT Team continue to participate in outreach activities.  For example Our e-zine devoted to asteroid research including NEOs ( in the Czech language serves for public, students, educators and media. More then 140,000 visitors have totaled more than 880,000 page views on this website so far.

More info about the KLENOT project can be found at

David Dixon (2000 Grant Winner)
Jornada Observatory, New Mexico, USA

Update as of March 7, 2007

The objectives of the observing program at Jornada Observatory are extended follow-up of newly discovered NEOs and recovery of single opposition NEOs which will become brighter then the magnitude limit of the telescopes at Jornada but don't become bright enough for the NEO surveys to recover during their routine survey work. In the two years since the last update Jornada Observatory has replaced its remaining 0.3-meter telescope with a second 0.4-meter telescope. A long period of below-average observing weather has significantly reduced the number of observations of NEOs during 2006, but of the observations made 60% have been dimmer than magnitude 20V and 20% have been dimmer than magnitude 21V. The reduced observing time however has allowed collaboration with a team of researchers at George Mason University in Virginia, USA investigating the orbits of Minor Planets in the outer solar system and the possibility of evidence of the Pioneer Anomaly or other perturbing acceleration.

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

Update as of March 5, 2007

A systematic survey that we began in 2005 had, by the end of 2006, covered more than half the sky south of -20 degrees declination. As images of each field are spread over more than one night, there is the potential to detect sizeable slow-moving objects far beyond the orbit of Neptune. While no trans-Neptunian planet or dwarf-planet has yet shown its face, that endeavour proved worthwhile in producing two comet discoveries, two NEO discoveries, and the first observations of two other NEOs. It is fair to say the potentially hazardous asteroid 2006 LD1 would not otherwise have been found by professional NEO surveys given the density of stars at the galactic center which puts that region out of bounds for their auto-detection software, and the fact that all subsequent observations over the 12-day arc were targeted ones.

The year's other interesting discovery was a distant, apparently asteroidal object on an incoming hyperbolic trajectory. By default it was initially listed as a Damocloid of unprecedented size but its orbit was more indicative of a new, rather than extinct comet and indeed that interpretation became official once an emergent coma was reported some two months later. C/2006 OF2 (Broughton) will reach perihelion in the northern sky in September 2008, at 2.4 AU from the Sun, and is expected to attain 10th magnitude.  However, there's a possibility it could become much brighter if the initial observations represented a large nucleus verging on activity, rather than a smaller one already well enshrouded by an unresolved dust cloud.

Most recently in the summer hiatus I have been involved in further development of the freely available occultation coordinating software, ScanTracker. It now includes a printable sky plot and introduces the concept of altazimuth pre-pointing for various kinds of drift-through observations of asteroid occultations.

James McGaha (2002 Grant Winner)
Grasslands (651) and Sabino Canyon (854) Observatories

Update as of March 8, 2007

Regular observations of the Grasslands (651) and Sabino Canyon (854) Observatories started in January 2000 under the newly assigned IAU/MPC code 651 and 854. The following are the results of the past 7 years of work.

The observatories are used primarily for confirmation and follow-up of NEOs. I placed higher priority on fainter objects as well as faster-moving objects.

From January 2000 to March 2007, 651 and 854 made 5676 astrometric measurements of near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) reported to the MPC. 1371 newly discovered NEAs (from NEO Confirmation page) were confirmed and published in the MPECs with precise astrometric measurements.

Since January 2000 I have confirmed 42 newly discovered comets found to have cometary features which had been posted to the NEO Confirmation page.

In March 2003 SCO (854) first reported the optical afterglow of GBR 030329.  At GO (651) Photometric R band magnitudes for 7 days were published in the IAUCs.

The impact of ”Deep Impact” spacecraft on 4 July 2005 on comet 9P/Tempel was observed with high speed video and R band photometry at GO (651) which were published in IAUCs.

Seven asteroid occultations were successfully observed with time resolution of 0.03 seconds.

In addition to astronomical work, I have continued to promote science and debunk pseudoscience through numerous national television, radio and public speaking appearances.

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

Update as of March 7, 2007

Last year was a little leaner than previous years since the asteroid search system was pointed farther north as part of an astrobiology project involving the photometric monitoring of solar-type stars. Instead of over 70,000 astrometric observations as in 2004 and 2005, only 47,000 observations were acquired although they included some that were very interesting, such as the discovery observations of the "G" component of comet 73P/SCHWASSMANN-WACHMANN in February of 2006. 94 observations of known NEOs were acquired in the data stream but there were no NEO discoveries this year.

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

Update as of March 3, 2007

Hunters Hill continues to benefit from the automation facility enabled by the Grant, the purchase of an SBIG ST-8E camera with filter wheel. Observing practise has been refined to enable Hunters Hill to point, track and shoot up to 3 Minor Planet targets each night for lightcurve observations or up to 60 Variable star targets during those periods of each lunation when conditions makes minor planet photometry unreliable. The observatory has been primarily undertaking NEO and Inner Main Belt asteroid physical observations under the Binary Asteroid Photometry Survey lead by Dr. Petr Pravec. Forty-five objects were observed yielding two asynchronous and one synchronous binary targets (CBET 617 - 2754 Efimov, CBET 681 - 6244 Okamoto and CBET 824 - 2478 Tokai). As a by-product of these observations, two eclipsing binary stars were also discovered (GSC 5802-00929 and GSC 5740-02196).

Additional observing time was allocated to the CARA project for the observation of Comet 9P Tempel 1, after the impact from the Deep Impact mission, as well as optical observations supporting Dr. Ellen Howell's Arecibo radar observations of Minor Planet 554 Helin. As a result of all these observations, nine papers have been authored or co-authored and published in journals including Icarus and the Minor Planet Bulletin. A summary of the targets observed and results obtained by Hunters Hill can be found at:

Peter Birtwhistle (2005 Grant Winner)
Great Shefford Observatory, Berkshire, England

Update as of March 7, 2007

NEO confirmation and follow-up work has continued during 2006 and 2007 following the CCD upgrade in September 2005 made possible by the Shoemaker Grant. The increased light gathering capacity of the system has enabled fainter objects to be detected and now magnitude +21 objects are routinely imaged, allowing follow-up of the fainter, often under-observed objects that the surveys are now detecting.

In the 9 months since the last update report, follow-up observations have been published in over 130 discovery MPECs, including over 60 first confirmations of NEO Confirmation Page objects and additionally, a further 9 NEOCP objects have been found to be cometary and reported in IAU Circulars. Four NEOs were recovered at their second opposition and several periodic comets were also recovered. Other more routine NEO follow-up has been published in over 90 Daily Orbit Updates and the NEODys NEO database now holds over 7,400 astrometric positions from Great Shefford.

Enhancements to the software controlling the CCD and telescope have been made to further automate normal operations and to help search relatively large areas of sky when positional uncertainties for NEOs start to expand beyond the boundaries of the CCD field of view. Changes have also been made to allow very fast-moving objects that stray into the field of view to be tracked without ephemerides long enough for an orbit to be determined and therefore to check whether they are artificial satellites, or NEOs on a close approach to Earth.

Further information on the observatory, the equipment, observational techniques and results can be found at

See other posts from March 2007


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


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