July 2002 Asteroid/Comet News
Updated: 20 June 2003
<<June 2002 News ^UP^ August 2002 News>>
The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, announced July 1st the seven recipients of the Edgar Wilson Award for the year ending June 2002, which involves plaques and checks in addition to some additional fame for Mssrs. Ikeya, Murakami, Petriew, Snyder, Utsunomiya, Yeung, and Zhang of Canada, China, Japan (3), and the U.S. (2). Five of their six comets were visual discoveries, using binoculars or small telescopes the most since 1994 and quite an achievement in the age of automated NEO search programs. And one of these, Ikeya-Zhang, is the recovery of a comet seen in 1661, now the comet with the longest orbital period (341 years) that has been actually observed.
The 11 July issue of Nature has an article about new information on nanodiamond distribution in micrometeorites and what it appears to mean for the formation of the Solar System. See the Lawrence Livermore National Lab 11 July news release and reports at Space.com 10 July, Astronomy.com 16 July, and Sky & Telescope 19 July 2002.
A NASA headquarters news release (corrected 24 July from the 17 July original text and JPL's illustrated version) tells about a gravity assist-plus approach to designing planetary space missions, as refined and put into software by JPL's Martin Lo. The idea isn't just to pick up speed and course changes by looping around planets and moons, but to also pass through and use the planets' and moons' Lagrange points where the gravity influences of multiple bodies are canceled out. This is putting chaos theory to an orderly use, and Lo's new LTool software reportedly makes calculating these paths relatively quick and easy as compared with old gravity-assist trajectory planning.
An 18 July Associated Press item (see CNN and Space.com) based on an Interfax Military report of 18 July tells about Russia coming online with a new "space control" system at the Okno facility near Dushanbe, Tajikistan. It apparently has optical tracking capabilities somewhat akin to the U.S. Air Force facilities of which MIT's LINEAR program is an outgrowth (GEODSS), and with which JPL's NEAT Hawaiin program is associated (MSSS). Asteroid-observing capabilities aren't mentioned, however.
See two different Space.com 18 July reports about 1) among other missions, how manned flights to asteroids might figure into NASA's future, and 2) among other purposes, how planetary defense is being cited as a big reason to go back to the Moon. The first is based on a report from the NASA office of Human Exploration and Development of Space (HEDS), which you can download from NASA OSF as a 5.5Mb PDF. The second comes in part from the continuing advocacy of NYU's space historian, William E. Burrows, for his Alliance to Rescue Civilization (ARC) concept, explained in various places including a Space.com 30 Oct. 2001 article.
In the 19 July updating of Discovery Circumstances by the IAU Minor Planet Center, there were 177 new asteroid namings, largely for LINEAR and LONEOS discoveries. The highest-numbered asteroid now publicly named is 42191 Thurmann (2001 CJ37). Other new namings include 6962 Summerscience (1990 OT), 13358 Revelle (1998 TA34), 13752 Grantstokes (1998 SF58, a LONEOS discovery), 16157 Toastmasters (2000 AS50), 25399 Vonnegut (1999 VN20), and 38083 Rhadamanthus (1999 HX11). There was also a name change, to Gunnarsson from Undset for 10265 1978 RY6, and a name correction: 6533 Giuseppina instead of Guiseppina.
A meteor exploded over Boqate Ha Sofonia, Lesotho in Africa on 21 July. See the BBC's 22 April 2003 article, "Meteor caused Lesotho 'poltergeist'."
Lockheed-Martin put a news release out 23 July about its participation in the coming ESA Rosetta comet-lander mission with an ion spectrometer, and also tells a little about Carl A. Wirtanen of Lick Observatory, who discovered the mission's destination, 46P/Wirtanen, in 1948.
A bolide over Italy on 27 July has been reported.
The Planetary Society on 30 July announced its 2002 Shoemaker Near Earth Object Grants. Recipients include $8,140 to John Broughton of Reedy Creek, Queensland, Australia for the purchase of an Apogee AP6Ep CCD camera to be used on a new computer-controlled 0.46-m telescope [which] will immediately be put to work making follow-up position reports on fast moving NEOs and NEOs that cannot be seen by northern hemisphere observers.
NEAT's 1.2m Palomar telescope on 12 July detected a companion to comet 57P/du Toit-Neujmin-Delporte. On 20 July, Yan Fernandez et al. reported 18 additional fragments, shown in a beautiful mosaic of images taken with the University of Hawaii 2.2m telescope (UH/IfA 24 July news release). He describes "a zoo of fragments strung out in a line extending almost 30 arcmin [the Moon's apparent width] away from the comet itself." The Arkansas Sky and Klenot observatories also have posted images, as has Campo Catino with this JPEG, and Michael Jaeger. See IAUCs 7934, 7935, 7936, 7937, and especially 7946 and 7957 with analyses of the breakup history.
Planetary defense advocates cited 2002 MN and other recent close calls and fireballs in two forums that were reported in Scientific American 8 July, Space.com 10 July, Astronomy.com 12 July, Sky & Telescope12 July, Spaceflight Now 12 July, and BBC 15 July. Also raised is the spectre of a meteor explosion being mistaken in these tense times for a first strike and setting off a nuclear conflagration. For more about that, see Space.com's 6 June report, and more below, especially about infrasound detection.
More objects found = bigger load on MPC
A Spaceflight Now 12 July article about planetary defense brings up a crucial point that has not gotten enough attention or response: Brian Marsden, director of the Minor Planet Center [MPC] ... estimates that there are about one million NEOs 50 meters across or larger; only 2000 NEOs of any size have been discovered. However, the Minor Planet Center has only 2.5 full-time employees ... who work 16-hour days seven days a week just to keep up with the current rate of asteroid and comet discoveries. For explanation of the Center's financial situation, see the distress calls Marsden sent out in MPECs 2001-W73 and 2002-A03 of last November and January.
Meteor or missile?
Over Dnipropetrovsk in the Ukraine on the night of July 4th, an Israeli El-Al pilot reported what looked to him like a mid-air missile explosion at some distance from his aircraft. A Russian Urals Airline pilot and one other pilot also were reported to have seen the explosion. Benny Peiser wrapped this story up in his Cambridge Conference Correspondence 8 July edition. See also CNN 6 July and BBC 5 July and 6 July reports.
Infrasound detection of large meteor events
Nature has a 17 July article about how atmospheric meteor explosions can be distinguished from nuclear explosions using the infrasound network being put together as a part of the worldwide monitoring system underlying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The article is based on a paper, "Multi-station infrasonic observations of two large bolides," by U.S. infrasound researchers in the 9 July edition of Geophysical Research Letters.