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Bruce BettsMay 29, 2013

Planetary Defense Conference 2013 Part 2

Shoemaker NEO Grants

This is the second part of my three part wrap up from last month’s Planetary Defense Conference: Protecting the Earth from Asteroids. Part 1 covered some conference overview, summary of status of research in the field, and some of the special events at the conference.  Here I relate some of the specific conference experiences related to the Planetary Society Shoemaker Near Earth Object Grants.

Our Shoemaker NEO Grants fund mostly amateur astronomers, and some professionals, with grants to upgrade their observatories.  I got to announce the latest round of winners at the public event (video here), and also you can read about them and what they are going to be doing with the grants.

At the conference, I also got to see one of our past winners and talk to several of our review committee members.  Jaime Nomen, who was awarded a 2010 Shoemaker NEO Grant, attended the conference.  Jaime and his colleagues at La Sagra Observatory in Spain got a lot of attention recently, because they discovered the asteroid 2012 DA14 that flew by closer than geosynchronous satellites on Feb. 15, 2013. They were able to do that because of the camera they purchased with their grant that allowed them to track fast moving objects that the professional surveys can miss.  Jaime once again expressed his gratitude to The Planetary Society and its members who make the Shoemaker Grants possible.

Jaime is a very interesting person: a dental surgeon by profession, a talented amateur astronomer by choice.  He splits his time and his locations around Spain (Barcelona, Madrid, and La Sagra near Granada) in order to do it all.  For this reason, he says he works on a lot of observations while using the internet on the train.

I also saw our new Shoemaker NEO Grant review panel leader and coordinator, Tim Spahr, the director of the Minor Planet Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.  The MPC is where all observations of NEOs get submitted.  It is also where observers go to find what new asteroids others have discovered that need follow-up observations to allow determination of orbits.  Tim said this about the Shoemaker Grants:

This is an exciting program! The past winners have been very productive and useful in contributing to NEO follow-up and discovery, and also to providing critical physical observations of new discoveries. Given the program's success, I'm excited to see how things unfold in the future.

I also was able to visit with review panel members Alan Harris of More Data!, and Duncan Steel of the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.  Their enthusiasm for the program and its ability to help the tracking, characterizing, and finding of NEOs is gratifying.   I once again want to thank them as well as the other committee members, Carl Hergenrother, University of Arizona, and Petr Pravec, Ondrejov Observatory, for all they do to make the program as efficient and effective as possible.

It was also a pleasure, as always, to chat with Carolyn Shoemaker.  Carolyn was married to the name sake of the grants, Gene Shoemaker, who passed away in 1997.  She also is one of the great comet, and asteroid, discoverers of all time.  Mat Kaplan interviewed her at the conference for Planetary Radio.

I also talked with Amy Mainzer from JPL at the conference.  She is the Principal Investigator of the NEOWISE space infrared survey that discovered hundreds of NEOs and characterized thousands.  She shared this quote with me:

The Shoemaker NEO Grants allow people from all around the world to help find asteroids and comets that get close to Earth. Shoemaker NEO Grant winners were instrumental in helping our project, NEOWISE, discover and track potentially hazardous asteroids.

Bottom line: the conference and those I interacted with made me even more excited about the good we are doing with our Shoemaker NEO Grants, which was tough: I was already pretty excited.

Read more: near-Earth asteroids, meteorites, meteors, comets, Earth impact hazard, asteroids, Planetary Society People, Shoemaker NEO Grants

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Bruce Betts

Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society
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