Bruce BettsNov 19, 2012

Calling (Really Serious) Asteroid Hunters

I am happy to announce a new call for proposals for The Planetary Society’s Gene Shoemaker Near Earth Object (NEO) grant program, which is celebrating its 15th Anniversary. Proposals are due Feb. 4, 2013. The Shoemaker NEO Grants are designed to assist amateur observers, observers in developing countries, and under-funded professional observers in contributing to vital NEO research. 

I am very excited to announce that Timothy Spahr, the Director of the Minor Planet Center (MPC) has agreed to be our new Shoemaker NEO Grant coordinator. Tim will guide the direction of the program and coordinate the review panel that will make recommendations for funding. Among other tasks, the MPC, run by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory under the auspices of the International Astronomical Union, is responsible for the collection of astrometric (position) measurements of NEOs and dissemination of those measurements, making Tim the ideal person to help guide the Shoemaker NEO grants. 

Shoemaker NEO Grant Repeat Winners
Shoemaker NEO Grant Repeat Winners As of 2012, these 4 individuals and their observatories have won more than one Planetary Society Shoemaker NEO grant: (left to right) Bob Holmes (USA), Herman Mikuz (Slovenia), Russ Durkee (USA), and David Higgins (Australia).

I want to express the appreciation of The Planetary Society as a whole, as well as my personal thanks, to outgoing Shoemaker NEO Grant coordinator Dan Durda of the Southwest Research Institute. Volunteering his time for many years, Dan has done a great job and has been instrumental to maximizing the contribution of the Shoemaker NEO Grants to addressing the near Earth asteroid threat. We have limited resources, and having people like Dan and Tim and the expert panelists they engage is crucial to ensuring we spend our resources where they can make the biggest difference.

This round of grants will continue to focus on improving capabilities for follow-up observations of near Earth asteroids and characterizing the physical properties of asteroids (important for deflecting dangerous asteroids). Even though these are the foci, Shoemaker NEO Grant winners have also made some interesting recent discoveries including close by passes of Earth including 2012 DA14, passing close by in February 2013, and the recently discovered 2012 SY49. Grants typically go to hardware improvements to take already productive observatories to the next level, for example through sensitive cameras or equipment to robotically control an observatory. See the Call for Proposals for more background and more on what we are looking for in proposals, and see this page for details on how to submit a proposal. See the Shoemaker NEO pages for more on the program, including updates on past winners. You can also listen to past winners on Planetary Radio including this recent show, and this show about 2012 DA14.

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