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The Asteroid/Comet Connection's daily news journal about asteroids, comets & meteors   –   11-20 December 2004

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[ 21 December 2004 news ]


20 December 2004 - Monday

Worden on tap:  Marco Langbroek brings to our attention a December 16th statement from U.S. Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas urging the Bush administration to select retired U.S. Air Force general Simon P. Worden to be the next NASA Administrator. In addition to his military space command experience, Worden is a PhD astronomer, and his name is familiar to A/CC readers as an advocate of planetary defense and of conducting missions to near-Earth objects. He is an outspoken critic of NASA, as was recently reported in a November 29th article.

Mt. Lemmon Survey:  MPEC 2004-Y27 today announced the discovery of 2004 YK1, but the object is less interesting than the discoverer — the "Mt. Lemmon Survey" in Arizona, north of Tucson. It has MPC code G96, which appears to have been used for the first time today in this MPEC and the Daily Orbit Update MPEC. The Catalina Sky Survey Facilities page tells that "we have completed upgrades to the Mt. Lemmon 1.5-m reflector needed to support deeper survey, follow-up, and physical characterization programs ... on short notice ... close to the discovery epoch when objects are usually at their brightest for ground-based telescopes."

SOHO news:  Karl Battams told the SOHO comet discovery chat page today that "LASCO will be safing today at 20:30 UT and will recover on Thursday 23rd at roughly 20:45 UT." This has to do with a predicament in how the SOHO spacecraft continues to perform its long-running mission despite problems with pointing its antennas. This outage comes while C/2004 V13 (SWAN) was being watched via SOHO to see whether it will survive perihelion calculated for 0320 UT tomorrow (see below). The last LASCO C3 image posted is from 2042 UT today.

Deep Impact:  There are Deep Impact comet mission previews at Wired News today and at NASA's Astrobiology Magazine today. And the Cornell Chronicle has a December 16th article about "Cornell space scientists will make an impression with probe's visit to comet."

FMOP news:  FMO Project online volunteer S.B. Pope this morning discovered the object added at "Dec. 20.47 UT" to the Minor Planet Center NEO Confirmation Page (NEOCP) with temporary designation SW40Jh.

Risk monitoring:  Today's Daily Orbit Update MPEC reports observation of four objects with impact solutions: 2004 VD17 from Great Shefford Observatory in England last night, and from yesterday morning, 2004 XM29 from Stony Ridge Observatory in southern California, and 2004 XN14 and 2004 XP14 from Farpoint Observatory in Kansas.
      NEODyS and JPL today very slightly raised their risk assessments for 2004 XM29, and JPL raised its low ratings for its one 2004 XN14 impact solution.
      Updated:  Today NEODyS and JPL each raised an impact solution in 2077 for 2004 XP14 to Torino Scale 1 (a routine alert that an object "merits special monitoring"), and both monitors very slightly lowered their overall ratings for 2004 VD17.



19 December 2004 - Sunday

Bits & pieces: has a U.S government General Accounting Office (GAO) report posted yesterday about the cost of a Shuttle Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission. It says that "NASA estimates the cost at between $1.7 billion to $2.4 billion. However, documentary support for portions of the estimate is insufficient."
      A 15 December article tells about two NASA-funded studies for Neptune missions, one nuclear-powered (see more about that below) and one conventional. Both would enter into Neptune orbit and would concentrate in part on studying Neptune's large moon, Triton, which may be a captured Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt object.

WISE mission:  KSL-TV Salt Lake City November 23rd and Utah's Deseret News on November 24th told about work beginning on the Widefield Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) space telescope at the Utah State University's Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL). It "will be the first infrared telescope in 22 years to carry out a survey of the whole sky" and will include a hunt for NEAs and other asteroids — finding "probably upwards of 100,000 new asteroids." And it will be looking for a theoretical missing "two-thirds of the closest stars to the sun," including dim dwarfs "closer to our own solar system than the nearest known." See also news from October 2004 and April 2003.
      SDL built the infrared telescope for the WIRE mission, on which the cryogenics failed and the spacecraft was shifted to other scientific tasks. See archive pages at SDL, Caltech, JPL, and GSFC.

Jakarta event:  An apparent meteor exploded at about 7:30am (0030 UTC) this morning above Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, which has been braced for holiday terrorist attacks. The Jakarta Post reports from various news agencies that witnesses "reported seeing an object with a tail of fire" and that "the explosion could be heard in Tangerang, just west of Jakarta, the southern suburb of Depok and as far away as Bogor, some 60 kilometers south of the capital." And it says the Indonesian air force caught the object on radar. See also Reuters' wire story and a BBC report.

Risk monitoring:  Today's Daily Orbit Update MPEC reports observation of six objects that have impact solutions, caught by eight observatories in Europe and the U.S. Today JPL and NEODyS very slightly raised their overall risk ratings for 2004 VD17. They both slightly raised their ratings for 2004 XM29 and slightly lowered them for 2004 XK3. NEODyS slightly lowered its 2004 XP assessment while JPL barely lowered its ratings. Regarding objects listed only by JPL, today the last impact solution was removed for 2004 XG29, and overall ratings for 2004 XN14 lowered significantly.



18 December 2004 - Saturday

Deep Impact:  The Planetary Society yesterday and December 14th have articles previewing the Deep Impact comet mission, but the real news is in a December 14th report at Spaceflight Now, "Rocket trouble stalls launch of Deep Impact mission." It gives further details on the first delay from December 30th to January 8th — "a couple of parameters" found not set as expected in the spacecraft software, so time was needed to re-run some already completed tests. And it explains a new delay, until two launch windows on January 12th, because a Boeing engineer found a problem with the Delta II launcher interstage, and the fix requires that "the rocket's second stage must be detached and removed from the launch pad." All three articles report NASA's confidence that the mission will launch by the last possible date of January 28th. (If not, the mission will have to be completely rescheduled and an alternate target chosen.) See also a NASA December 14th news release.

Meteor news:  The Albuquerque Tribune has an article today about "'Baby' moon rock studied." It quotes research team leader Lars Borg about the work, using a sample of a meteorite owned by London's Natural History Museum: "We asked for 100 milligrams of the rock — which is about the size of half an aspirin. We grind it up and separate out elements, then analyze minerals to calculate an age. It takes one person months to do that." This is about Northwest Africa 773 (NWA 773), which was told about at November 24th, and the Nature article preprint is available as a 183KB PDF.
      Marco Langbroek, who has lots of experience in investigating meteor claims (see "When meteorites aren't"), has provided commentary on two recent stories, a Salt Lake City "fall" below and the Gansu, China event below.

Crater news:  The Yuma, Arizona Sun has an article from yesterday about the discovery of Meteor Crater by "the first white man to see it in 1871," after whom the crater was originally known as "Franklin's Hole."

Observatory news:  The Harvard University Gazette has an article from December 16th about Charles Alcock, who is principal investigator of the Taiwanese-American Occultation Survey (recent news), which is looking "for small objects beyond Neptune," and who is also the new director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). Among many huge tasks, CfA also hosts the International Astronomical Union Minor Planet Center and Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams.
      A Taipei Times article yesterday reports that "The Dish" (Parkes Observatory radio telescope in Australia), which was a critical player in the Apollo 11 Moon landing and the ESA Giotto comet 1P/Halley flyby, will be part of in a lashup "with 16 other telescopes in Australia, China, Japan and the US" that will form "a virtual radio telescope with a 'dish' nearly as wide as the diameter of the earth." The main task is to track the descent of the Huygens probe to the surface of Titan on January 14th, and also to listen for "faint whispering" transmissions from the surface of Titan for up to three hours after the Cassini mother spacecraft loses contact with the lander.
      Monday is being called the 100th anniversary of Mount Wilson Observatory, home to the 100" Hale telescope, as noted by BBC yesterday.

Risk monitoring:  Today's Daily Orbit Update MPEC carries observations of seven of the eight objects currently in view that have impact solutions. Two of them, 2004 XG29 and 2004 XK3 were caught only by Farpoint Observatory in Kansas, which also picked up two more. Great Shefford Observatory in England was alone with 2004 XO63 and observed two more. 2004 XN14 was caught only with the remote-controlled Faulkes Telescope North in Hawaii, but with two credits — first by unidentified observer(s) and then by UKAPP in Northern Ireland. And Petit Jean Mountain Observatory in Arkansas brought in 2004 XP14.
      With further observation of 2004 VD17, we can get a fresh look at how JPL has reworked its risk assessment. NEODyS is showing that there are now 600 positions reported over 40.515 days, and of these it currently rejects one, while JPL isn't using 18. Both risk monitors today very slightly lowered their overall risk ratings for this half-kilometer object.
      Both monitors today slightly raised their assessments for 2004 XM29 and 2004 XP14, while NEODyS slightly raised, and JPL very slightly lowered, ratings for 2004 XK3. Of objects not listed by NEODyS, JPL slightly lowered its risk assessment for 2004 XG29, solidly lowered ratings for 2004 XN14, and removed its only impact solution for small object 2004 XO63.
      Today the European Spaceguard Central Node updated its Priority List for NEO observers for the first time since December 10th.



17 December 2004 - Friday

C/2004 V13 (SWAN) in SOHO LASCO C3 images 
at 2118 & 2218 UT on 17 Dec. 2004 
images courtesy SOHO/NASA/ESA

Comet news:  The German Comet Section explains today that C/2004 V13 (SWAN), announced in MPEC 2004-Y02 late yesterday, is a bright comet visible in the SOHO LASCO C3 view from now until December 21st when it reaches perihelion, which it may not survive at 0.18 AU (about 70 Earth-Moon distances from the Sun). This comet was discovered online by Mike Mattiazzo in November 30th images from the SOHO SWAN instrument. The MPEC credits Sebastian Hoenig with the discovery in C3 images, but the SOHO discovery chat page has a message from him stating that the "comet first reported by John Sachs is most likely a SWAN comet that was found by Michael Mattiazzo early December in SWAN images from late November" (emphasis added). The small animation here is cropped full-size from upper-right C3 frames of 2118 and 2218 UT today, images courtesy of SOHO/NASA/ESA.

Meteor news: has posted a 2004 Geminid gallery.
    KSL-TV Salt Lake City said yesterday that "This week's Geminid meteor shower may have hit really close to home," reporting that the city's Clark Planetarium has "a credible witness who saw [a meteor] land" at 4:30am Tuesday the 14th, coming "through one of these trees," and a search was under way. 18 Dec. update: Expert Marco Langbroek tells A/CC that "This seems to me a quite typical case where a fireball that is hundreds of kilometers away, and thus seen low over the horizon, is mistaken for one that lands nearby. Meteors, including meteorite falls, cease emiting light some tens of kilometers above the earth surface so if you see one still illuminated close above the horizon, it means you see a meteor that is really far away, and not close to you."
      The Spectator-Observer of Victoria, Australia reported December 14th that two people saw a "Geminid asteroid" at 1:30am Sunday the 12th when they "were between Henty and Coleraine." It was moving "quite slowly in a gentle arc" with colors of "fantastic green, yellow, orange and blue." Readers were told that "It might have been possible to see as many as 30 glowing asteroids in the early hours of this morning."

Minor object life:  The Tampa, Florida Tribune has an article from December 13th about the work of Wayne Nicholson, who is "attaching microscopic creatures to man-made granite meteorites placed on the outside of small rockets." Ten percent survived the rigors of suborbital flight from White Sands Missile Range in April, and "Next year, Nicholson hopes to send up another group of micronauts. This time, they'll be inside the meteorite, perhaps giving them a better chance at survival."
      In a related discussion, see's article December 13th, "Life-Swapping Scenarios for Earth and Mars." It notes that "hyperthermophiles — microbes that live at very high temperatures and that form the deepest branches on the tree of life [were the] most likely to have been transferred around the solar system by impacts."

Planetary defense:  Voice of America has a report from today about B612 Foundation lobbying to change the orbit of some 200-meter asteroid. Dan Durda is quoted as saying, "The same technologies ... to move or deflect an asteroid to protect the planet, are exactly the same technologies and capabilities and techniques that we're going to be using to move an asteroid around the solar system to mine them and utilize them for their resources."
      Retiring senior NASA astronaut John Young told the Houston Chronicle in an article today that "If the back side of the moon [with so many craters] was facing us, I think human beings would be far more adaptive, far more educated, about (asteroid or comet) impacts on planet Earth." (He got to see the far side for himself on the Apollo 10 and 16 lunar missions.)

2004 XO63 confirmation imagery 
from Robert Hutsebaut 17 Dec. 2004 2004 XO63 confirmation imagery from Robert Hutsebaut from today 0849:02 UT with a 0.3m telescope.

Risk monitoring:  JPL today posted 2004 XO63 with a single very low-rated impact solution. The discovery of this small object was announced today in MPEC 2004-Y04 as found early yesterday by LINEAR in New Mexico and confirmed last night and early today by Great Shefford Observatory in England, and this morning by Powell and Farpoint observatories in Kansas and by Robert Hutsebaut in Belgium using Rent-A-Scope at New Mexico Skies. JPL estimates this object's diameter at roughly 20 meters/yards and is showing that it passed Earth yesterday at 5.6 lunar distances.
      Today's Daily Orbit Update MPEC shows observation of four of the seven objects currently in view that have impact solutions and NEODyS and JPL have updated their respective risk assessments.
      With regard to 2004 VD17, NEODyS** slightly, and JPL* very slightly, raised overall risk ratings, and NEODyS for the first time is showing two impact solutions for 4 May 2091 rated at Torino Scale 1 (a routine alert that an object "merits special monitoring").
      Both risk monitors today raised the ratings on their few impact solutions for 2004 XP14. NEODyS slightly lowered, and JPL very slightly raised, ratings on 2004 XK3. And JPL slightly lowered its very low ratings for 2004 XG29.
      *Update:  Sharp-eyed reader Steve Schaefer points out that JPL's 2004 VD17 update incorporates fewer observations than yesterday's. Reading the numbers, it appears this is actually a revision of yesterday's assessment, with a 38.815-day observation arc through December 16.2, and that JPL has currently rejected 15 of the 588 available astrometric positions, where yesterday it rejected none. Today's NEODyS assessment incorporates all but one of 594 observations in a 39.135-day arc through December 16.52.
      **Update #2:  After midnight UTC, NEODyS revised its 2004 VD17 risk assessment, and it didn't just reject but completely tossed out the only three positions reported in today's DOU (from NEAT/Haleakala) that went beyond yesterday's observation arc. The new count totals 591 observations, including one discarded (and this indicates JPL may have have gone from no discarded positions yesterday to 18 today). The upshot is that NEODyS has brought its 2004 VD17 risk assessment back to just an itty-bit above where it was Thursday, and once again has only one TS-1 rating in the year 2091.



16 December 2004 - Thursday

Crater news:  Canada NewsWire has a prospectus announcement ("not for distribution in the U.S.") from yesterday in which Manicouagan Minerals, Inc. reports that it "has accumulated rights to claims totalling 1,300 square kilometres" of the Manicouagan impact crater. It notes that "Less than 5% of the crater has been explored to date and geophysical surveys have identified four deep magnetotelluric anomalies, which are located toward the centre of the Manicouagan crater." More about this exploration is reported in a November 30th filing, which tells of "the first evidence that nickel and copper are contained at depth in the system."

Meteor news:  About the New South Wales event of December 6th (see news thread), a report yesterday at the Camden Haven Register reports that "an Australian monitoring station, Geoscience, recorded the acoustic signal from its two bases at Tenant Creek and Hobart and estimated the yield of the bolide between 200 Tonnes to 1 Kilotonne." They were able to estimate the sonic source location as "fairly close to Kempsey, in the Macleay area of NSW... Given that the object was travelling from west to east, it is likely that any fragments fell into the Pacific," although some pieces might have hit land.
      The Myrtle Beach, Florida Sun reports today that it was two U.S. Air Force fighter jets, not a meteor, that caused a sonic boom Tuesday that spawned many emergency calls from the public that caused firetrucks, ambulances, and a rescue boat to be dispatched. (The article quotes "Kim Youmans, a coordinator with the American Meteor Society" as saying that "We are experiencing the Geminid meteor shower right now [but the] Geminids usually don't have sonic booms with them.")

Gansu event:  The government news agency Xinhua has a China Daily report from 14-15 December of a fireball seen over north central China at 11:36pm Saturday 11 December preceded by "a long rumbling" and ending in an explosion recorded by the Gansu Provincial Seismology Bureau as taking place "in the suburbs, some 60 kilometres from downtown Lanzhou." The report says that remains hadn't been found, but the Xinhau version shows one picture of a purported meteorite, and China Daily shows another picture. (The report also says that a farm fire might have been started by the fireball, but meteors don't cause surface fires.)
      18 Dec. update:  Expert Marco Langbroek tells A/CC that, in looking "at the two pictures of stones found in China after the Gansu event, neither of the two stones in the newspaper pictures looks like a genuine fresh meteorite to me."

Optical transient:  Eric Christensen at the Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) alerts A/CC to a GRB Coordinates Network Circular 2851 today that concludes that the event he caught December 11th at CSS "was most likely an unusually strong stellar flare associated with this [probable M dwarf] star, and not a [gamma ray burst] or any other exotic type of an event." This comes from taking a spectrum of the apparent object with a Keck 10m telescope today. For more info, follow a news thread that continues below.

Observatory news:  Gianluca Masi tells A/CC:

I'm pleased to introduce the first-light images of the Campo Catino Austral Observatory (CAO) telescope, a 0.5m f/3 fully robotic instrument that our team has recently installed in Chile, not too far from San Pedro de Atacama, under one of the best skies in the world. It is hosted at the SPACE facility and its current setup provides a 1-square-degree FOV, suited for NEO searches from the south and for wide field imaging. The OTA, mounted on a Software Bisque Paramount ME, is equipped with an Apogee AP8p CCD camera. Its MPC code is I10.
      These nights Gianluca Masi, Franco Mallia (Campo Catino Observatory, Italy), and Alain Maury (Gene Shomeaker Observatory and SPACE owner, Chile) had the first light with this telescope, choosing as our target the comet C/2004 Q2 (Machholz). This nice object was imaged more than 260 times over ~3.5 hours, to make both a movie and a still image. In the former, we have been able to beautifully record the evolution of the ion tail, so it is worth checking. The images are visible here, but please note that the official page will be here as soon as I have fixed some server problems. In the latter site we will also present our instrument in more detail, but, at the moment, only a short description in Italian is available.

Risk monitoring:  Today's Daily Orbit Update MPEC reports observation of all eight objects currently in view that have impact solutions, with participation from thirteen observing facilities, including a clean sweep from KLENOT in the Czech Republic and five caught by Wildberg Observatory in Germany.
      KLENOT was the only observatory to report 2004 XN14, and today NEODyS removed its single impact solution for this one-third-kilometer object, while JPL raised its overall risk ratings for solutions in the years after the usual NEODyS 2080 time horizon.
      Update: JPL and NEODyS today removed their few impact solutions for 2004 XN50, and both raised their overall risk ratings for 2004 VD17. NEODyS very slightly raised, and JPL very slightly lowered, their assessments for 2004 XK3. With 2004 XM29, JPL barely changed its risk ratings, while NEODyS slightly raised its ratings. Both risk monitors lowered their 2004 XB45 and 2004 XP14 assessments. And JPL further lowered its very low risk assessment for 2004 XG29.



15 December 2004 - Wednesday

Optical transient:  Archive sleuth Andrew Lowe tells A/CC:

Just wanted to pass along some information about the CSS transient object that you recently reported. I've included a JPG of some images from the SkyMorph interface, which archives images from the NEAT cameras. The enclosed JPG [see image] is a sum of three images obtained by NEAT at Palomar on Feb. 12, 2002 at 0616:47, 0648:44, and 0718:59 UTC, and processed with Astrometrica. At the left side of the image, at the position indicated by CSS, there is indeed an object that I've identified as "CSS." My astrometry for this image gives the position as 08h03m24.71s +38°18'35.8", which is in excellent agreement with CSS. The estimated brightness is R=20.1, using the USNO-B1.0 catalog. The object doesn't show on other SkyMorph data, although generally the data is poorer.

For more about this extremely distant and unusual event caught in the process of tracking relatively nearby minor objects, see below.

Meteor news:  Chris Peterson has posted a page with a beautiful composite image of the "nice Geminid display here in Colorado."

Risk monitoring:  Today JPL and NEODyS posted 2004 XN50, the discovery of which was announced early this morning UT in MPEC 2004-X78, found by LINEAR in New Mexico yesterday morning and confirmed after midnight by Felix Hormuth (in Germany) via Rent-A-Scope at New Mexico Skies, Grasslands Observatory, and Desert Moon Observatory.
      NEODyS today also posted 2004 XB45, and JPL raised its still very low overall risk ratings for this object.
      Today's Daily Orbit Update MPEC reports further observation of 2004 XN50 and 2004 XB45, and also of six other objects with impact solutions. NEODyS and JPL's risk assessments for 2004 VD17 changed only very slightly. JPL's early assessments for 2004 XG29 had been trending lower but today rose, albeit for a single very low-rated impact solution. Both risk monitors slightly raised their assessments for 2004 XK3 today, and on 2004 XP14, NEODyS slightly raised while JPL very slightly lowered ratings. Both very slightly lowered their 2004 XM29 assessments. And, at last check, NEODyS hadn't updated yet on 2004 XN14.



14 December 2004 - Tuesday

Optical transient:  The Catalina Sky Survey has posted a page with a spectacular animation of Eric Christensen's discovery that was reported in news yesterday below.

Comet news:  About his precovery of P/2004 V4 (NEAT) (see news), Maik Meyer told the Comets Mailing List yesterday that he has posted a "short summary." The list was also informed of a page with images of 162P/Siding Spring from 10 and 12 December at Montcabre Observatory.

Risk monitoring:  On a day with news of all eight objects that have impact solutions and are currently in view, let's begin with 2004 MX2, which was reported in today's Daily Orbit Update (DOU) MPEC as observed from Farpoint Observatory in Kansas yesterday morning. Today NEODyS removed the only solution for this half-kilometer object.
      Today JPL posted a few very low-rated impact solutions for 2004 XB45, an object perhaps ten meters/yards wide that was discovered yesterday morning by Andrew Tubbiolo at the Spacewatch 0.9m telescope in Arizona and was confirmed last night by KLENOT in the Czech Republic and early today with the Spacewatch 1.8m telescope and by Robert Hutsebaut (in Belgium) via Rent-A-Scope at New Mexico Skies. Francesco Manca at Sormano Observatory tells A/CC that 2004 XB45 will come inside the Earth-Moon system, passing "on Dec.16, 2004 19UT at 0.002168 AU from the Earth (324,328 Km or 0.84 lunar distance)."
      And now down the rest of today's list, in alphabetical order: NEODyS and JPL slightly lowered their risk assessments for 2004 VD17. JPL lowered its assessment for 2004 XG29 about as far as it can go and stay posted. Converging, NEODyS very slightly lowered, and JPL very slightly raised, overall risk ratings for 2004 XK3. Both moved only very slightly in adjusting their low ratings for 2004 XM29. JPL lowered its assessment further for 2004 XN14, and cut its solution count from 41 to three. And both risk monitors raised their overall risk ratings for 2004 XP14 while simultaneously cutting their impact solution counts for this object. All of this followed observations reported in today's DOU from five observing facilities, mostly from KLENOT and Farpoint.
      Update:  NEODyS has posted 2004 XN14 with a single low-rated impact solution.



13 December 2004 - Monday

Optical transient:  Eric Christensen at the Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) tells A/CC:

This may not count as minor planet news, but it's a discovery made in the course of NEO surveying. I'm still trying to find out what it is/was...there's no clear coincident gamma ray burst data, and I haven't had any astronomers I've contacted say "Oh, you imaged a ..."
      In summary, I serendipitously detected a stationary optical transient event in the CSS survey data on UT Dec 11 at R.A. 8h3m24.60s +/- 0.07s, decl. 38°18'35.9" +/- 0.5". Out of four images separated by ~15 minutes each, the object was not visible to ~19.5 R in image 1, appeared in image 2 at 15.9 R, image 3 17.5 R, and image 4 18.2 R. About an hour later, the object was still visible at ~19.3 R. There is nothing within 0.5' of this location in the Palomar Sky Survey and USNO-A2.0 catalog.

Updates:  If you have access to IAU Circulars, see a report in IAUC 8452 of December 12th.
      J.J. Kavelaars tells A/CC: 

The strange optical transient event that CSS's Eric Christensen reported could be an Orphan Gamma Ray Burst. Orphan GRB's are expected to occur with no gamma-ray component (thus the orphan) because the GRB part is beamed and the optical part is not. We are currently looking though data being acquired as part of the CFHT-LS attempting to detect such orphan GRBs. The object that Eric describes sounds like a good candidate.

FMOP news:  The FMO Project discovery reported from yesterday morning (see below) was announced in MPEC 2004-X68 today as 2004 XP35, very roughly estimated at 70 meters/yards wide. Jim Scotti was running the Spacewatch 0.9m telescope, from which images were reviewed and the discovery made by Josep Julia Gomez as an online volunteer. Confirmation came this morning from Powell Observatory in Kansas, Jim Scotti on the Spacewatch 1.8m telescope, Farpoint Observatory in Kansas, Robert Hutsebaut with Rent-A-Scope at New Mexico Skies, and Grasslands Observatory in Arizona. JPL shows that 2004 XP35 passed Earth on December 7th at 6.4 lunar distances.

Precovery:  MPEC 2004-X60 reported late yesterday that Maik Meyer has found the potentially hazardous asteroid 2004 VT60 in archive images from NEAT's telescope on Haleakala in Hawaii from 12 and 18 November 2001. This kilometer-size object was discovered last month by the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona and was listed with impact solutions from 12 to 14 November. It has been observed occasionally since, most recently by KLENOT in the Czech Republic on 7, 8, and 10 December.

Risk monitoring:  Today's Daily Orbit Update MPEC reports observations of five objects with impact solutions, each caught by one to three of the six participating observing facilities located in the Czech Republic, Kansas, Arkansas, Italy, and New Mexico. Today NEODyS very slightly raised, and JPL very slightly lowered, overall risk ratings for 2004 VD17. JPL cut 2004 XG29 down to a single very low rated impact solution and lowered its risk assessment for 2004 XN14. NEODyS slightly and JPL very slightly lowered their ratings for 2004 XK3. And JPL has raised 2004 XP14's still-low assessment.
      Update:  Finishing today's re-assessments for already posted objects, NEODyS has lowered its 2004 XP14 ratings, converging with JPL's assessment although covering a shorter time span.
      Update #2:  Sometime after 2023 UTC on the 13th, and recorded by A/CC at 0107 on the 14th, NEODyS posted 2004 XM29.



12 December 2004 - Sunday

FMOP news:  An FMO Project discovery "moving at 4.8 deg/day," found by online volunteer Josep Julia Gomez in Spain this morning, was added to the Minor Planet Center's NEO Confirmation Page (NEOCP) at "Dec. 12.52 UT" with Spacewatch 0.9m telescope temporary designation SW40JF. This is the first FMOP discovery to reach the NEOCP since tiny 2004 UH1 was found inbound for the Earth-Moon system on October 23rd (more info).

Deep Impact:  The Deep Impact mission will hold a "pre-launch mission and science news media briefing at 1 p.m. EST, Tuesday, Dec. 14" in Washington, DC that will be carried by NASA TV, according to a December 10th news release. has the Kennedy Space Center December 9th Expendable Launch Vehicle Status Report for the Deep Impact Delta II launcher. Pictures of some of the work talked about can be seen here, including installation of the high-gain antenna on the 9th, illumination testing of the spacecraft's solar arrays on the 8th, and mating of the launcher's second stage on the 3rd.
      The mission has posted a November/December newsletter that includes an interview with the flyby spacecraft's Encounter Flight Director, Steve Wissler.

Risk monitoring:  Today's Daily Orbit Update MPEC reports observations from seven U.S. and European observing facilities of four objects with impact solutions. After a brief decline in 2004 VD17 risk ratings, NEODyS and JPL are now back to their highest ratings on this object, but, as of today, each has only one impact solution still rated at Torino Scale 1 (a routine alert that an object "merits special monitoring").
      Today NEODyS posted 2004 XP14, which was one of JPL's two new listings yesterday. For its part, JPL today solidly lowered its risk ratings, cut the count of impact solutions from 74 to 20, and now has no solutions before 2041 (yesterday it had solutions as early as July 2006).
      2004 XN14 is an interesting counter example, however, of how first risk assessments can evolve with further observation. JPL today raised risk ratings on this other of its new listings, and went from 88 to 171 solutions.
      Both risk monitors today again very slightly raised their low overall risk ratings on 2004 XK3.
      Update:  JPL has posted the small object, 2004 XG29, the discovery of which was announced today in MPEC 2004-X52 as found early on the 10th by LINEAR in New Mexico and confirmed last night through tonight from five observing facilities. One of these was New Mexico Skies, with Rent-A-Scope equipment used over the Internet by Jeffrey Sue in Hawaii and Robert Hutsebaut in Belgium, working separately more than an hour apart this morning.
      Update #2:  JPL has posted another small object, 2004 XM29, which had its discovery announced today in MPEC 2004-X57. It was found yesterday morning with the Spacewatch 0.9m telescope in Arizona and confirmed last night by KLENOT in the Czech Republic and this morning with the Spacewatch 1.8m telescope and by Desert Moon Observatory in New Mexico.
      Update #3:  JPL is showing that 2004 XG29 passed Earth this morning at about 5.9 lunar distances (LD), and 2004 XM29 will pass at 9.4 LD on New Year's Day.



11 December 2004 - Saturday

Comet news:  Juan Lacruz alerted the Comets Mailing List yesterday that comet 162P/Siding Spring (P/2004 TU12) has a new tail. And Carl Hergenrother later noted to the list that this "on again, off again" nature "will provide us with a perfect opportunity to study the surface of an 'active' comet," and requested observational help with determining the rotational period. "My own observations with the Catalina 1.54-m north of Tucson show a ~0.4 magnitude amplitude and a period much longer than 6 hours (24+ hours looks likely)," he said.
      An undated recent item at Sky & Telescope notes that "Several people at dark sites have reported [C/2004 Q2 (Machholz)] as faintly visible to the naked eye, making it a record-breaking fifth such comet in 2004" after C/2001 Q4 (NEAT), C/2001 T7 (LINEAR), C/2004 F4 (Bradfield), and C/2003 K4 (LINEAR). And an S&T article tells about viewing prospects and includes a sky chart.

Meteor news:  The Geminid Meteor Shower is predicted to have two peaks overnight 12-13 and especially 13-14 December, as can be seen in Bill Cooke's chart for major U.S. cities at You can learn more from articles at Sky & Telescope undated, Science@NASA December 6th, yesterday, and National Geographic yesterday.

HST view of debris disk around 
young Sun-like star HD 107146.

Hubble Space Telescope view of debris disk around the young, Sun-like star HD 107146, the light of which is here blocked out, 88 light years away. See larger images and more info. Credit: NASA/ ESA/ J.E. Krist (STScI/ JPL) & D.R. Ardila (JHU).

Extrasolar news:  The Spitzer Space Telescope put out a news release Thursday about it and the Hubble Space Telescope observing "evolving planetary systems" around Sun-like stars. Hubble looked at a young system and the Spitzer was used "to scan 26 older Sun-like stars with known planets, and found six with Kuiper Belt-like debris discs [that are] about 100 times brighter than the debris disc around the Sun." Read more and see images about these six, which are described as averaging "4 billion years old, nearly the same age as the Sun." See also reports at Sky & Telescope yesterday, yesterday, New Scientist yesterday, and the Planetary Society yesterday.

Nuclear electric power: has an article from yesterday telling about a list given to NASA of six candidate nuclear electric-powered test missions that includes a "Near Earth Object (NEO) Asteroid Mission that would involve stopovers at multiple objects, perhaps landing hardware on a NEO to assess the ability to modify the trajectory of a celestial body."
      Georgia Tech Research News told December 9th about a NASA-funded study of another nuclear-electric mission proposal, "30 years" from now to visit Neptune and its large moon, Triton, "which planetary scientists believe to be a Kuiper belt object."

Bits & pieces:  For more about the National Research Council panel's recommendation to NASA to drop the robotic Hubble Space Telescope rescue mission and to get on with a Shuttle mission (report), see an article from yesterday at Sky & Telescope.
      To read more about the apparent ice glazing detected on the large, distant object, 50000 Quaoar (report), see articles at New Scientist December 8th and December 9th.

Risk monitoring:  JPL has posted 2004 XP14, the discovery of which was announced in MPEC 2004-X44 today, found yesterday morning by LINEAR in New Mexico and confirmed early today by KLENOT in the Czech Republic, Great Shefford Observatory in England, and Sabino Canyon Observatory in Arizona. Its very preliminary risk assessment starts relatively high because of the object's size (about 420 meters/yards wide by JPL's estimate) and because the first impact solution is less than 19 months away, in July 2006.
      JPL has also posted 2004 XN14, which was announced today in MPEC 2004-X42 as discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) in Arizona yesterday morning, and confirmed this morning by KLENOT, Farpoint Observatory in Kansas, and Sabino Canyon. It appears to be of very similar size, but with impact solutions that don't begin until 15 years from now.
      For those new to impact hazard monitoring: Impact solutions (also called "virtual impactors") are not predictions, but rather are possibilities that haven't yet been eliminated. Most solutions in preliminary assessments are soon eliminated after further observation, and 2004 XP14, for instance, has been tracked over a period of only a bit less than 24 hours.
      Today's Daily Orbit Update MPEC reports observation of 2004 VD17 and 2004 XK3, and today NEODyS and JPL have slightly raised their risk assessments for 2004 VD17 and very slightly lowered their overall ratings for 2004 XK3.

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