How Your Donations are Helping Planetary Society Asteroid Hunters
As a Planetary Society supporter, you are quite literally helping to save the world. The asteroid hunters you support through our Shoemaker Near-Earth Object grant program find, track and characterize near-Earth objects, a job too big for the world's professional sky surveys to handle alone.
Thanks to your donations, we awarded $59,300 to 7 asteroid hunters in 2018. The money helped them activate new telescopes, install sophisticated new cameras, and train more asteroid hunters, reducing the chances that humanity gets caught off-guard by an asteroid on track to impact the Earth.
Each year, we ask our Shoemaker winners to help us tell the world about their work. Here's what last year's winners have been up to.
Here is a light curve for one of those 8 newly discovered binary asteroids: (100015) 1989 SR7. Looking at the light curve, we can actually see 2 asteroids crossing in front of each other. The left dip was caused by the smaller asteroid transiting in front of and casting a shadow onto the larger one, and the right dip was caused by the smaller body moving behind the larger one.
Petr Pravec / Photometric Survey for Asynchronous Binary Asteroids (BinAstPhot Survey) / Astronomical Institute of the Academy of Sciences of Czech Republic
Light curve for asteroid (100015) 1989 SR7
A 21-hour light curve for asteroid (100015) 1989 SR7 that shows 2 asteroids crossing in front of each other. The left dip was caused by the smaller asteroid transiting in front of and casting a shadow onto the larger one, and the right dip was caused by the smaller body moving behind the larger one.
Center for Solar System Studies (CS3) California, U.S.A. Award: $8,995
Coley and his colleagues at CS3 purchased a new CCD camera to use with a newly acquired 0.7-meter telescope. They report the camera will be configured and installed soon.
CS3 has received several Shoemaker grants over the years. They have 9 telescopes, and in 2018 determined the rotation period of 289 objects, 161 of which were near-Earth asteroids, and 12 of which were binary asteroids.
The Center for Solar System Studies (CS3) in California.
Astronomical Research Institute (ARI) Illinois, U.S.A. Award: $5,500
Holmes used his Shoemaker grant to purchased and activate a new CCD camera for ARI's 0.61-meter telescope. The observatory continues to specialize in observing very faint NEOs. In 2018, ARI made the sixth-most NEO measurements in the world, topped only by big-name observatories like Pan-STARRS and Spacewatch. They also led the pack in observations of extremely dim 22nd magnitude observations.
Rober Holmes / ARI
Top faint object observers
Robert Holmes at the Astronomical Research Institute (ARI) consistently ranks among the world's top observers for very faint near-Earth objects.
Farpoint Observatory Kansas, U.S.A. Award: $6,860
Gary Hug reports his 2018 grant enabled him to install a remote control system for the 0.7 meter Tombaugh Reflector at Farpoint Observatory in Kansas, USA.
His group, the Northeast Kansas Amateur Astronomer's League (NEKAAL), is working to bring more NEO observers into the fold by training more members to remotely operate the telescope. One of their recent training sessions at a local high school was recently covered by the Topeka Capital-Journal.
Blue Mountain Observatory New South Wales, Australia Award: $11,845
Julian purchased a new 0.5-meter telescope to go with an existing mount, camera and facility he had at Blue Mountain Observatory. After some challenges with the new telescope mirror, manufacturer Hubble Optics reports it is almost finished and ready for delivery.
In the meantime, Oey made observations that helped confirm two equal-mass binary asteroids: (190166) 2005 UP156 and 2017 YE5. You can read more about Oey's work and the equal-mass binaries in this paper.
Morocco Oukaïmeden Sky Survey (MOSS) High Atlas Mountains of Morocco Award: $9,999
Pray used his grant to purchase a new mount for a 0.5-meter telescope at Sugarloaf Observatory. As a bonus, he sold the old mount and used the funds to purchase a new CCD camera from OPT. Pray said the company gave him a substantial discount because the camera was related to a Planetary Society grant!
With his new equipment, Pray continued his work as a top binary asteroid hunter, contributing data that generated two Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams, with more to likely come.
Donald Pray's new CCD camera
Donald Pray's new SBIG Aluma 3200 CCD from OPT, installed at Sugarloaf Observatory in Massachusetts, purchased with the help of a 2018 Planetary Society Shoemaker NEO Grant.
G. V. Schiaparelli observatory Varese, Italy Award (2015): $9,995
Buzzi, a 2015 Shoemaker NEO Grant winner, wrote in to tell us that the CCD camera our donors helped purchase a few years ago is still working very well on his 0.84-meter telescope. Starting this year, he has been able to operate the telescope remotely, and in the first 3 months of 2019 Buzzi made 1,300 astrometric measurements of 271 near-Earth objects and 183 main-belt asteroids.
He also sent us pictures from 30 March 2019 of asteroid (06478) Gault, which is slowly breaking apart! Check out the comet-like tail seen in these images.
Asteroid (06478) Gault by Luca Buzzi
An image of asteroid (06478) Gault taken by Luca Buzzi on 30 March 2019. The asteroid is slowly breaking apart.
NASA, ESA, K. Meech and J. Kleyna (University of Hawaii), O. Hainaut (European Southern Observatory)
Asteroid (06478) Gault by Hubble
The asteroid 6478 Gault is seen with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, showing two narrow, comet-like tails of debris that tell us that the asteroid is slowly undergoing self-destruction. The bright streaks surrounding the asteroid are background stars. The Gault asteroid is located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.