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Leaders in Asteroid Tracking/Observing Awarded Through Global Grant Program

The Planetary Society Announces Shoemaker NEO Grant Winners at Planetary Defense Conference


Erin Greeson
Phone: +1-626-793-5100

Frascati, Italy (April 15, 2015) – The Planetary Society, the world’s leading non-profit space interest group, today announced the 2015 winners of its Shoemaker Near Earth Object (NEO) grant program, an initiative that funds leading asteroid observers, primarily advanced amateurs. The awards were presented at the biennial International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defense Conference held this year at the European Space Agency facility in Frascati, Italy.

“While the threat of asteroids is real, so is the opportunity to address it,” said Dr. Bruce Betts, director of science and technology at The Planetary Society. “The Shoemaker NEO Grant program currently focuses on asteroid tracking and characterization,” Betts added. “Follow-up tracking observations tell us whether an asteroid is on a collision course with Earth, and lightcurve measurements, brightness with time, allow us to know spin rate and even whether what looks like one asteroid is actually a binary pair.”

Nineteen proposers applied for The Planetary Society 2015 Shoemaker NEO Grants. Six winners were awarded a total of $53,250. Over the 18-year history of program, more than $323,000 has been awarded in 49 grants (to 39 awardees) in 16 countries on five continents.Past Shoemaker grant winners have made tremendous contributions to discovery, follow-up, and characterization of potentially dangerous near Earth asteroids using the upgrades facilitated by the grants.  Information on past winners is available on the Planetary Society website.

2015 Shoemaker NEO Grant Winners:

Luca Buzzi operates the G. V. Schiaparelli Observatory near Varese in northern Italy. This system is one of the most productive NEO astrometric follow-up (position measurement) facilities in the world. They have recently procured a large 0.84-meter diameter f/4 telescope. His grant of $9,995 will enable the purchase of a CCD camera for this telescope. With this equipment in place, it is expected that Mr. Buzzi will be able to observe NEOs down to visual magnitude (brightness) V~ 22, on par with professional facilities around the world.

Dr. Maurice Clark is given a grant of $8,000 to assist with moving a telescope from Texas, USA to the town of Koorda, in Western Australia, and to assist with observatory construction. This is an extraordinarily good observing site that will enable observations of dimmer objects and also provide good geographic latitude and longitude coverage for lightcurve (brightness with time) research.  From this location, Dr. Clark will continue his successful work determining asteroid rotation periods and add to his 18 published papers in the Minor Planet Bulletin.

Daniel Coley specializes in determining rotation periods for NEOs, Hungarias, and Jupiter Trojan minor planets. His grant of $8,065 will purchase a new CCD camera to replace a failing instrument at his observing facility at the Center for Solar System Studies (CS3) in Landers, California. This new CCD will allow Daniel to concentrate on year-round observing of NEOs, and publishing the results.

Robert Holmes is among the most prolific follow-up observers of NEOs in the world. His facility in northern Illinois operates several telescopes year-round. Mr. Holmes recently completed construction of a 1.3-m diameter telescope. He will be granted $5,500 for a new more sensitive CCD for this telescope. (The CCD currently on that telescope will be moved to a 0.6m telescope.) The addition of the new camera on the 1.3m telescope will allow Robert to continue his efficient and productive NEO follow-up program, and provide even fainter follow-up on NEOs dimmer than V = 22. 

Julian Oey is the director of Blue Mountains Observatory in New South Wales in Australia. The facility specializes in lightcurve observations as well as astrometry for NEOs and comets.  The facility houses no less than five telescopes, observing dozens of NEOs per year photometrically and over 200 NEOs per year astrometrically.  His grant of $15,000 will allow to Julian to obtain a CCD for the largest telescope (24” diameter) in the observatory.  This camera and telescope combination will provide essential follow-up observations of NEOs from southern skies to magnitudes fainter than V = 21, as well as determine lightcurves for NEOs at much fainter magnitudes than before. 

Donald Pray specializes in determining lightcurves for binary asteroids.  His research, conducted from Sugarloaf Mountain Observatory in Massachusetts, USA also concentrates on determining physical parameters such as orbital period and pole position for these objects.  Donald will be granted $6,690 to purchase a new CCD camera to replace an old and failing camera; this will allow research to continue uninterrupted and more efficiently than it is currently being done. 

“This year’s Shoemaker grant winners are doing the kind of work necessary to get out ahead of the threat, helping to protect he people of our planet,” Betts noted.

In addition to its Shoemaker grant program, The Planetary Society works to engage and inform the global community in planetary defense topics.

The Planetary Society began the Gene Shoemaker NEO grant program in 1997 and it was named for pioneering planetary geologist Gene Shoemaker, whose lifetime of discoveries has significantly helped scientists to understand the process by which asteroids impact planets and the nature of the NEO population. Funding for the Shoemaker NEO awards is provided through generous contributions of The Planetary Society members and supporters and to date more than $323,000 has been provided.

Media Resources:

Details about The Planetary Society’s involvement in planetary defense

Dr. Bruce Betts’ blog

Video coverage of The Planetary Defense Conference on Planetary TV

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