June 2002 Asteroid/Comet News
Updated: 11 February 2003
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It was announced that Klet Observatory's new KLENOT telescope bagged its first near-Earth asteroid discovery, 2002 LK. LK was discovered late on June 1st, about three days after it passed Earth at around nine lunar distances.
The U.S. Geological Survey announced the "recent launch" of its Astrogeology Research Program Web site, starting out very strong on Solar System planetary sciences but light on minor bodies. Check out a great news page and the Comet 19P/Borrelly material on the DS1 MICAS page.
This program is at the USGS Flagstaff Field Center in Flagstaff, Ariz., which also hosts the International Astronomical Union Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature's Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature, funded by NASA and currently holding surface namings for asteroids Eros, Gaspra, Ida/Dactyl, and Mathilde.
Showing the difficulty of determining orbits for slow-moving objects newly discovered on the viewing edge of the Solar System, 2002 GO9, originally reported as a scattered disk object, was updated in MPEC 2002-L55 on 11 June with some very different orbital parameters that put it into the Centaur category. This is based on new observations as well as precoveries from Mt. Palomar from 29 March 1995 and NEAT's Hawaiian telescope from March/April 2001 as well as January 2002. (Old: a,e,i,q was 54.24, 0.81, 13, 10.451; new: 19.39, 0.28, 13, 14.039.)
With the 26 June updating of Discovery Circumstances by IAU Minor Planet Center, 1,258 newly-numbered objects were added to top out at 43721 4433 T-3, and showing 120 new namings for previously numbered objects, from 4853 Marielukac (1979 ML) to 37044 Papymarcel (2000 UE29). There were also a few changes in discovery credits. 37608 Lons remains the highest-numbered publicly named asteroid, and the old Zappafrank (3834) is now joined by just plain Zappa (16745).
The Planetary Science Research Discoveries (PSRD) site posted its second article that, in minimally-technical terms, sums up some of the analysis of data from the NEAR-Shoemaker mission to 433 Eros, based on the work of Sarah Wilkinson et al.. "Using mass and volume measurements [to determine its] bulk density [they concluded] that Eros has been heavily fractured by impact collisions but was not demolished to the extent that it is now a rubble pile." (About "rubble piles," see another article on PSRD's site.) The previous Eros article reported on this S-type asteroid's chemical and mineral composition, concluding that, "Eros is more like an ordinary chondrite than any other type, though a little bit of melting cannot be ruled out."
(updated 11 Feb. 2003) An article by David Nesvorny et al. of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in the 13 June 2002 issue of the journal Nature explains how, from the Karin cluster's known 39 asteroids, they calculated the 13 best established orbits backward until all were found to share a single orbit — that of the pre-breakup parent object. Thus they can conclude that the breakup occurred 5.8 million years ago, give or take a couple hundred thousand years. A relatively recent event in the Solar System's long collisional history. This cluster is named for its largest member, 832 Karin, and has one other large member, 4507 1990 FV.
Sky & Telescope reported 7 June about Roy Tucker's poster at the June American Astronomical Association meeting telling that his new backyard observatory with three fixed-mount 14" telescopes can watch unattended for minor objects down to limiting magnitude 20.5. With the help of the Global Network of Astronomical Telescopes (GNAT), he hopes to develop a worldwide network of telescopes. Tucker posted an explanation of his concepts to the Minor Planet Mailing List, republished in the Cambridge Conference Correspondence for 24 Sept. 1998.
The MPC Minor Planet Discoverers list credits Tucker with 33 discoveries during 1996-2001. For two of these he received both the first and second Benson Prizes for NEA discoveries in 1997 and 1998, and he has co-credit for a comet, too: P/1998 QP54 (LONEOS-Tucker).
Follow-up: The Planetary Society 2002 Shoemaker Near Earth Object Grants announced 30 July 2002 include funds to support Tucker's work.
Main Belt transportation system?
At the 10-11 June annual meeting of NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC), Global Aerospace Corporation (GCA) delivered a status report on its phase II concept study, "Cyclical Visits to Mars via Astronaut Hotels" (GCA calls them "AstroTels"). Funded through next January by NIAC, the concept in development is a way to cost-effectively service a small Mars base via routine five-month flights between Mars' moon, Phobos, and Earth's L1 Lagrange point (out toward the Moon). GCA states at the bottom of its AstroTel page that this concept also provides NASA "a transportation architecture that could be put in use to explore other planetary bodies, potentially near-Earth and Main Belt asteroids."
July 2002 updates: The PDF reports from this meeting are now available, and may appear later in HTML form. The AstroTel presentation slides [1.75Mb PDF] refer only to Earth-Mars transportation. For this multi-billion-dollar concept to work, there has to be considerable development of techniques and hardware for low-gravity mining in a vacuum, which would in turn be directly useful for exploring and mining asteroids and comets.
Florida Today reported 2 July on the presentation, saying that, "While it might seem far-fetched, the [NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts] apparently believes in it enough to grant the company up to $500,000 to further develop the idea."
MUSES-C public participation campaign
The Planetary Society of Japan, as a matter of public outreach, is seeking name registrations to try to land the names of a million people on the asteroid 25143 1998 SF36 with the upcoming MUSES-C mission. See also the organization's MUSES-C page and a 13 May announcement from the Planetary Society in the U.S. The latter was updated on 11 June, and was written up by Space.com 12 June and CNN 14 June.
MUSES-C asteroid sample return safety review
In mid-June 2002 there was some very interesting reading in the illustrated draft "Quarantine review of the MUSES-C Project: Surface sample returned from asteroid 1998 SF36" issued by Biosecurity Australia, of the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry, with comments from interested parties requested by the end of this month (June 2002) [21K PDF memorandum|2.2Mb PDF document]. For one thing, while the MUSES-C mission Web sites in Japan are quite out of date, this 42-page document shows an active program at work. And, for another, the further exploration and future uses of minor objects will involve biologic safety concerns and procedures similar to those explained here in some detail.
The document references "Evaluating the Biological Potential in Samples Returned from Planetary Satellites and Small Solar System Bodies: Framework for Decision Making," produced by the Space Studies Board (SSB) of the U.S. National Research Council in 1998 [full HTML version], and also refers to April and October 2002 meetings of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) under the U.N. Outer Space Treaty (OST) as regards assessing risks for this mission. In evaluating the 1998 SSB report, the Australian document looks at concerns over extromophile microbes, and notes that prions (infectious proteins) were not considered.
NASA's Planetary Protection Advisory Committee issued a brief recommendation in May 2002 about the biological risks of a 25143 1998 SF36 return sample, which the Australian document quotes the April COSPAR meeting as endorsing. From everything so far, it appears that the sample return will be approved.
For more about the MUSES-C mission and Australian preparations for its sample return, see Leonard David's 17 April 2002 article on Space.com.
Comets announced in June
No non-SOHO comets were announced during June 2002. However, C/NEAT (2002 L9) was discovered in June, when it was initially considered to be asteroidal, but was found to be cometary on 2 July 2002 and then was announced that day.
Risk concerns removed in June
There were several risk listing removals during 18-20 June. The NEODyS Risk page pulled 2002 GM5 from its "Lost objects" list. And the European Spaceguard Central Node (SCN) observation campaign for 2002 HW was retired, along with a campaign for 2001 SB170, which had been posted since last September. 2002 LV, which appeared on the JPL and NEODyS risk pages 4 June, and which had been dropped by NEODys on 15 June, was removed by JPL's page on the 18th.