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Sunday16 November 20031:53pm MST2003-11-16 UTC 2053
Today's news about Asteroids, Comets & Meteors
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Big Plutino found

Distant object 2003 VS2

MPEC 2003-W02 today announces the discovery and precovery of 2003 VS2, an Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt "Plutino," so called because its orbit, like Pluto's, is in resonance with Neptune. The initial estimate of size based on its brightness (H=3.9 G=0.15) puts 2003 VS2 on the order of 570 km. (354 miles) wide, or a bit smaller than the second largest Main Belt asteroid.

2003 VS2 was discovered Friday morning by JPL's NEAT program, using its Mt. Palomar 1.2m Schmidt telescope, and posted to the Minor Planet Center's NEO Confirmation Page (NEOCP). Confirmation came yesterday morning, with follow-up observations by NEAT and four other observatories through this morning.

Brian Marsden notes in the MPEC that, working from NEOCP information, "key precovery observations" were first found by Maik Meyer in NEAT/Palomar images from 13 and 25 November and 3 December 2002. And then Sebastian Hoenig located 2003 VS2 in NEAT/Haleakala images from 16 November 1998 and in NEAT/Palomar images from 21 September 2001 and from 5 January and 13 October 2002.

2003 VS2 image stack from NEAT/Palomar
25 Nov. 2002 from Sebastian Hoenig 2003 VS2 as seen in an image stack from Sebastian Hoenig using three images of 25 November 2002 from NEAT/Palomar.

Additional details:  Sebastian Hoenig tells A/CC that the "1998 images were not very good . . . but stacking [three] clearly revealed the object." He comments that he had noticed the new object on the NEOCP but didn't have time to do anything with it. And then Maik Meyer called this morning to tell about his precovery success. . .

He also said that he couldn't find it on other images which were available. I requested his observations and orbital elements to see what's up with these other images. Although the object couldn't be detected via direct motion in the NEAT triplets (as was the case for the November and December images), I could clearly identify it with images of the same region from other dates after recalculating the elements.

News briefs

Vesta water:  Following JAXA's announcement of a coming article telling that researchers had discovered evidence of water on 4 Vesta [link|alt], probably resulting from impacts of carbonaceous chondrites (see A/CC's report), the article from the November 2003 Geophysical Research Letters has now been posted for subscribers (abstract).

"Evidence of hydrated and/or hydroxylated minerals on the surface of asteroid 4 Vesta" was written by Sunao Hasegawa, Koji Murakawa, Masateru Ishiguro, Hidenori Nonaka, Naruhisa Takato, Chris J. Davis, Munetaka Ueno, and Takahiro Hiroi, and is available as a 180Kb PDF file from Davis.

JPL expansion:  The Los Angeles Times had an article yesterday, "JPL to Boost Workforce, Upgrade Campus." It says "JPL [a NASA operation managed by Caltech] plans to hire 200 to 300 people in the next year," mostly scientists and engineers, "as work accelerates on several space missions." It "also plans a $100-million upgrade to its 177-acre campus over the next several years [that] will mainly involve building three permanent structures to replace aging trailers and other temporary facilities." Next year's JPL budget, if passed by Congress, will be $1.6 billion.
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