It was January of 2004 when the elegant curve of the Vichada first caught the attention of geologist Max Rocca of Buenos Aires. Could the course of the river have been shaped by the circular outlines of an impact crater? Rocca decided to find out.
The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) just took its lens cap off on December 29, and posted its "first light" image on January 6. Now, just two weeks later, WISE has bagged its first near-Earth object.
In less than 24 hours, a newly discovered asteroid known as 2010 AL30 will be zipping past Earth at an altitude of approximately a third the Earth-Moon distance. There's no chance it'll hit us, but it's generating a lot of excitement in the community of amateur and professional near-Earth asteroid observers.
Our 2007 Shoemaker NEO Grant winners have been extremely busy over the past two years. Take for example Quanzhi Ye of Guangzhou, China: He was only 18 when he received the award but already the principal investigator of the sky survey at the Lulin Observatory in Taiwan.
Amateur astronomers play a critical role in retiring the risk of impact from near-Earth objects. When the Shoemaker NEO Grant program began in 1997, the focus was on finding previously undiscovered objects one kilometer in diameter and larger. Thanks to professional NEO survey programs like LINEAR (the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research program run by MIT’s Lincoln Laboratories) and the Catalina Sky Survey (run from the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory), the goal of discovering the vast majority of large NEOs is within reach, and the focus of the Shoemaker NEO Grant Program has shifted to astrometric follow-up and physical studies.