October 20, 2017

09.04.11: 2010 SO16-A World in a Bizzaro Orbit.

A horseshoe orbit. (Credit: NASA).

Ever wondered what local space would be like if the Earth had more than one moon? Well, it turns out that we do have several natural interlopers; sort of. Recently, researchers A.A. Christou and D. J. Asher of Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland reported on the discovery of a unique Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA): 2010 SO16, a 200-400 meter space rock locked in a horse-shoe orbit with Earth. [Read more...]

28.02.11: Pan-STARRS Sets a New Record.

While you were sleeping on the night of January 29th, 2011, astronomers both human and cyber atop Haleakala in Hawaii were on patrol. The telescope was the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS), and the quarry was Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs). In one marathon night, astronomers Richard Wainscoat, David Tholen and Marco Micheli of the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy bagged 19 confirmed NEAs, the most discovered in a single run.

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01.02.2011: NEOWISE: Mission Accomplished.

Comet 65P Gunn as captured by NEOWISE. (Credit: NASA/JPL/CALTech).

An orbiting sentinel recently completed its secondary science mission. WISE, NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, recently completed an all sky survey for Near Earth Objects (NEOs). Launched in December 2009, WISE’s primary mission was an all sky survey in the infrared spectrum. [Read more...]

11.12.10: The “Quasi-Moon” of Venus.

The curious orbit of 2002 VE68. (Created with JPL’s Ephemeris Generator).

   Up until about the mid-19th century, astronomers reported spurious sightings of a moon near our sister world, Venus. These sightings were copious enough to even warrant a name, Neith. Today, most of these observations have gone the way of the Vulcan’s and second Moon of Earth sightings as curiosities, chalked up to background stars or internal reflections in antique optics. Venus has no moon… but an interesting asteroid may vie for the next closest thing.

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26.06.10- Pan-STARRS on Patrol.

The Pan-STARRS observatory atop Haleakala. (Credit: Rob Ratkowski).

The Pan-STARRS observatory atop Haleakala. (Credit: Rob Ratkowski).

 

    You can rest a little easier tonight; astronomers now have a new and powerful tool in the hunt for killer space rocks. The Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System or Pan-STARRS went online recently May 13th. Placed atop Haleakala, Pan-STARRS was constructed by engineers and astronomers at the University of Hawaii and is now owned and operated by a group of 10 institutions known collectively as the PS1 Science Consortium. The mission of Pan-STARRS is simple and straight forward; to survey the entire night sky and use sophisticated search algorithms to see if anything has moved from night to night. By rejecting known or identified objects, Pan-STARRS can go after objects of particular concern; Near Earth Objects (NEO’s) sometimes also termed Potentially Hazardous Asteroids or PHA’s. To do this, Pan-STARRS is equipped with a 60” inch diameter telescope and the largest digital camera ever built, containing a total of 1,400 megapixels. This allows it to capture a wide field area 40 times as large as the Full Moon, and it will take 500 such exposures each night. Gigantic survey projects such as Pan-STARRS pose a major challenge for data transmission and storage; Pan-STARRS will generate 4 terabytes of data per night: this will all be analyzed and archived at Maui’s High Performing Computing Center. Pan-STARRS 1 is also a forerunner to an even more ambitious project known as Pan-STARRS 4 which will be four times as powerful. Not only will Pan-STARRS discover an expected 100,000 asteroids, but it will also catalog an estimated 1 billion stars and half as many galaxies. Expect the usual complement of comets bearing the Pan-STARRS name as generally happens during any automated deep sky survey, as well as a flood of imagery just awaiting amateur perusal… I’m gonna need a faster Internet connection yet again!

2009 UN3:A (Semi-) Bright Asteroid flyby.

Path of 2009 UN3 past the bright galaxy M60 Tuesday Night! (Created in Starry Night).

Path of 2009 UN3 past the bright galaxy M60 Tuesday Night! (Created in Starry Night).

 

This week, a brief cosmic interloper graces our skies. Tonight, 2009 UN3 will glide silently past Earth, at a distance of 0.03667 Astronomical Units, or about 3,400,000 miles. That equates to roughly 13 times the Earth-Moon distance. Not especially close, as Near Earth Asteroids go; 2009 UN3 isn’t considered a hazard on this pass, but has been classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid, (PHA) or one that warrants watching. What is interesting about this particular asteroid is the fact that it is nearly a kilometer in size, and thus should appear moderately bright. At maximum approach, 2009 UN3 will be approximately +12 in apparent magnitude, bright enough for moderate (8” aperture or larger) scopes. Closest approach occurs at 4:48 Universal Time (UT) on the 9th, at which time the asteroid will be moving in a south to north direction through the constellation  Corvus into Virgo around Right Ascension 12h 23’ 26.0” and southern declination -08° 55’ 30”. Keep in mind, the coordinates mentioned are topocentric; with Near Earth Objects (NEOs), parallax as viewed from along the Earth’s surface comes into play. [Read more...]