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Nov. 2002 Asteroid/Comet News

Updated: 30 June 2003
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1 November 2002

A large TNO, 2002 UX25, was announced in MPEC 2002-V08 of 1 Nov. as having been discovered the day before by Spacewatch with its 1.8m telescope. DANEOPS went right to work on UX25, and MPEC 2002-V22 four days later reports an earliest finding on a Palomar DSS plate from 12 Oct. 1991, and other observations from Oct. 1996 and late 2001, and a few more from 2002.

12 November 2002

Colorado fireball: A fireball was widely reported at 5:13pm local (commute) time on 12 Nov. Research coordinator Chris Peterson has posted a report page without much info yet, at last check. See the Rocky Mountain News report of 13 Nov., "Meteor puts on show for motorists on I-25," and KMGH-TV Denver's "Meteor Spotted In Southern Colo. Sky" of 13 and 18 Nov.

13 November 2002

Mirror matter was back in the news, this time as regards NEAR-Shoemaker observations of 433 Eros, as explained in a 13 Nov. BBC article.

15 November 2002

(updated 18 Jan.) As MPECs are posted for new asteroids, the ones suspected to be comets are sometimes immediately apparent due to the amount of observing activity they attract. Two such objects were announced on 15 Nov. — 2002 VP94 and 2002 VQ94. LINEAR discovered VP94 on 5 Nov., and the announcement in MPEC 2002-V70 came with 175 observations from 16 observatories. VQ94, also discovered by LINEAR, was announced in MPEC 2002-V71 with 71 observations from a dozen observatories since its 11 Nov. discovery. Brian Marsden notes in each MPEC, "Whether this object is a comet or not is inconclusive."
      2002 VQ94 is a distant object, coming to perihelion at about 6.7 AU (see the JPL Orbit Viewer), while VP94 comes in to about 1.52 AU, near the orbit of Mars (see JPL's Orbit Viewer). Seiichi Yoshida has posted a VQ94 finder chart, and the Minor Planet Center has a 2002 VP94 ephemeris page.
      Update: MPEC 2002-Y67 of 30 Dec. reports that 2002 VQ94 was found by DANEOPS in NEAT images of 27 Oct. and 1 Dec. 2001 from Mt. Palomar.

21 November 2002

The IAU Minor Planet Center updated its asteroid Discovery Circumstances on 21 November, adding 3,844 objects, bringing the total of numbered asteroids up to 52,224. Among new names, 42981 Jenniskens (1999 TY224), 9341 Gracekelly (1991 PH2), and 34611 Nacogdoches (2000 UF11) are joined by 9937 Triceratops (1988 DJ2) and 9951 Tyrannosaurus (1990 VK5). The two highest-numbered objects that now have been publicly named are 46610 Besixdouze (1993 TQ1) and 50000 Quaoar (2002 LM60).

23 November 2002

2002 RB182 was reclassified on the NEODyS Risk page on 23 Nov. as a lost object. According to the NEODyS 2002RB182 - Observations page, RB182 hasn't been spotted even once since it was announced in MPEC 2002-S04 on 16 September 2002. And that was based on just 12 observations from three U.S. observatories over a 25-hour period. JPL, which in its calculations rejects three of the observations, estimates RB182 to be 110 meters/yards wide, and has many tentative low-concern impact solutions for as early as 2008 (assessment). NEODyS reports only one low-concern solution, in the year 2044 (assessment).
      2002 RB182 debuted on the Spaceguard Priority List for experienced observers on 17 Sept. as "Urgent," with notations of being visible only until 7 Oct., and as having tremendous "sky uncertainty." Sky uncertainty is a measure of how difficult an object is to locate presently, and an indicator of how likely it is to be lost if not observed again immediately. This measure started very high and grew for RB182 through Oct. 6th, its last day on the Priority List.

27 November 2002

Alberta fireball: A Univ. of Alberta news item of 28 Nov., "Scientists use video in search for rare meteorite," reports that the school's All-Sky Camera Group's camera caught a fireball at 5:10am local time on the 27th. There is a link to video of the event on the UofA ASCG page. This project previously recorded a "bright meteor" on 25 Jan. 2001.

28 November 2002

An Associated Press report on CNN on 28 Nov., "Space junk mistaken for meteor shower," reported a Russian rocket re-entry seen over northwestern North America early on the 28th.

The proposed multi-asteroid Hera mission was in the news again with a 28 Nov. Fayetteville Morning News article, "UA Proposal For Space Mission Picks Up Science Partner." It said JPL has agreed to support the Hera project if the Univ. of Arkansas can get it funded. For more about the proposal, which hasn't been submitted to NASA yet, visit the Arkansas-Oklahoma Center for Space and Planetary Science (CSAPS) and its Hera page, and also the Hera mission page.

28 November Colorado "Thanksgiving Fireball"
2003 search: The Rocky Mountain News had a 28 May article, "Meteorite hunters to get tutoring," about a public lectures to be held May 30th and June 1st in Montrose and Gunnison, Colo. to help locals who are interested in looking for pieces from last year's spectacular fireball. And the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel had a May 31st report, "Team seeks remains of nighttime fireball."
(7 Dec. 2002 update) Chris Peterson's page on the Colorado Thanksgiving Fireball has an amazing amount of information and graphics. He reports that sonic data was recorded, there are multiple videos and hundreds of witness reports, and requests have been made to obtain corresponding satellite and infrasound data from the U.S. Defense Department. The object is being described as probably weighing a ton at entry and being about the size of a filing cabinet. Expectations are that some pieces reached the ground because of the size and speed ("at the slowest end of possible meteor speeds"), and video showing that the object was still visible in flight after exploding.
A/CC's original 4 Dec. report, revised 7 Dec. 2002: Another Colorado fireball is in the news, the sixth in three months (including one on 6 September, three on 6 and 7 Oct., and another on 12 Nov.). This latest fireball was seen in four states at 6:21pm local on 28 Nov. Chris Peterson is leading a team in collecting and analyzing reports for the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, checking results from a network of now some dozen all-sky cameras, and seeking video from security cameras.

29 November 2002

A 29 Nov. article, "Astronomy at the Ends of the Earth", tells about beginning the 2002-03 season for Antarctic meteorite search. See also ANSMET and a news release.

Stardust flyby of 5535 Annefrank

On 2 Nov. 2002, NASA's Stardust comet mission passed by 5535 Annefrank at a distance to avoid any companion dust or objects. It was not expected that much detail would be resolved, but the asteroid proved to be larger than expected and one image was released on 4 Nov. showing shape and some surface detail. All the images were fuzzy to very fuzzy and were archived without further release to the public, until A/CC published an animation made from them on 27 June 2003.
      5535 Annefrank is an inner Main Belt asteroid that was discovered on 23 March 1942 by Karl W. Reinmuth, who discovered some of the earliest known NEOs such as 1862 Apollo and 1937 UB Hermes. Hermes also had been in the news recently (see report).


Stardust tests Deep Space node

The 22 Nov. Status Report said that, besides resuming normal "cruise" operations after the Annefrank flyby, including collecting interstellar dust, a possible new node for NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) was tested.

The Stardust flight team had one period of communication with the spacecraft through an antenna of JPL's Deep Space Network this week. As part of a technology demonstration, a New Mexico antenna of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Long Baseline Array successfully received a Stardust downlink signal. Additional tests may lead to the use of the Very Long Baseline Array as a new resource for navigational tracking of NASA missions. 
The Very Large Array (VLA) of 27 25m antennas west of Socorro, N.M. was upgraded with X-band receivers to help capture faint transmissions from Voyager 2 at Neptune in 1989, and there has been occasional VLA/VLBA participation in Goldstone planetary radar work. Regular assistance to the DSN in handling the growing load of planetary mission communications, however, would be a new development.

2002 Leonids

(updated 18 Dec.) This year's Leonid meteor shower peaked overnight 18-19 November.
Post-shower reports

Shower previews & preparations

November EKBO reports

A bunch of November MPECs report on work by Lowell Observatory's Deep Ecliptic Survey (DES), with discoveries from recent observations, and, interestingly, also from observations now more than a year old. MPEC 2002-W30 of 22 Nov. has the newest of the new: three TNOs discovered by Lowell's Deep Ecliptic Survey (DES) from Kitt Peak on 7 Nov. 2002. One is a Plutino and the others are more distant, with semimajor axes at 44.49 and 44.72 AU. MPECs 2002-V11, -V12, and V13 of 1-2 Nov. 2002 report 14 new discoveries from observations made last year at Kitt Peak or Cerro Tololo between 21 Aug. and 20 Oct. There are no 2002 observations shown for these three Plutinos and 11 Cubewanos (furthest semimajor axis 46.15 AU). Meanwhile, MPEC 2002-W28 of Nov. 22nd reports 2002 observations of a DES Plutino announced last year, found during that same fruitful observing campaign.

MPEC 2002-W27 of 21 Nov. announces three new distant objects found by Caltech's Chad Trujillo and Mike Brown in a continuing effort to get extra value from NEAT/Palomar NEO survey images. Objects with discovery dates of 18 June, 26 Aug., and 3 Nov. 2002 are reported with one each Centaur, TNO/Plutino, and TNO/Cubewano (perihelion 42.73 AU).
      MPEC 2002-V78 of 15 Nov. reported another Plutino that was caught in NEAT images from the day before and followed-up immediately by Trujillo and Brown using a different telescope on Mt. Palomar.
MPEC 2002-V78 also reported five new TNOs that were first spotted on Nov. 11th or 12th by R.L. Allen and J.J. Kavelaars using the 4m Mayall telescope at Kitt Peak. One is in resonance with Neptune, and four are more distant. Also see MPEC 2002-V62 of the 13th for their Plutino follow-up work from the same observing session.

The hunt for 2002 VU94

(updated 14 Dec.) NEAT discovered 2002 VU94 on 13 Nov. with its Mt. Palomar telesecope, and subsequently located VU94 in images of 30 October from its Hawaiian telescope. This object, which has a diameter estimated at more than 2.9 km. (1.8 miles), was announced in MPEC 2002-V75 on 15 Nov., when it also debuted on the JPL Risks page. It appeared on the NEODyS Risk page the next day, but it wasn't until three days after its announcement that it showed up on the Spaceguard Priority List for experienced observers, and then only as a third-level "Useful" priority (raised a notch on the 20th to "Necessary").
      The Daily Orbit Update MPEC of 17 Nov. reported five 2002 VU94 observations from early on the 16th UTC from Tenagara II Observatory in Arizona. This resulted in refining the NEODyS risk assessment from 19 impact solutions to just four, but raised the earliest of those (7 May 2014), to a Palermo Scale rating of -2.09. NEODyS didn't, however, rate it above Torino Scale 0 (see Hazard Scales).
      JPL updated some of its Risks pages on the 17th and 19th, but it wasn't until five days after the Tenagra observations were reported that JPL publicly incorporated them into its 2002 VU94 assessment. On a Friday afternoon JPL time, the 22nd, an update was posted that moved VU94 to the top slot on JPL's Current Impact Risks page with a cumulative Palermo Scale rating of -1.98. It also increased the current number of JPL's possible impact solutions from 10 to 46 (many beyond the NEODyS time horizon), and gave the highest single PS rating, -2.40, to its then earliest solution (8 May 2014). Like NEODyS, JPL left its Torino Scale rating for VU94 at 0.
      Viewing is difficult around the time of the full Moon, and no new VU94 observations were published between Tenagra's of the 16th and three observations from early on the 23rd from Jornada Observatory in New Mexico, reported in the DOU MPEC of 24 Nov. JPL immediately revised its assessment with this data, cutting impact solutions from 46 to 20, eliminating the 2014 solution, raising VU94's cumulative Palermo Scale rating very slightly to -1.94, and raising the maximum single-event PS rating to -2.05 for its now earliest virtual impactor (May 2039).
      The 24th's new NEODyS assessment (for a shorter time horizon than JPL's) cut impact solutions from four to two, and also eliminated a 2014 solution. There was a May 2039 solution, but it was the 2061 virtual impactor that, at -2.85, got the highest Palermo Scale rating from NEODyS.
      JPL at this point still put the Torino Scale rating for 2002 VU94 at 0, so VU94's position above 1997 XR2, with its TS 1 rating on JPL's Current Impact Risks page, was an invitation for comparison. XR2, which JPL estimates to be less than a tenth of VU94's size, collected 140-plus observations between discovery by LINEAR on 4 Dec. 1997 and last being seen not quite 28 days later. JPL has two impact solutions calculated for XR2 for June of 2101, and rates them on the Palermo Scale at -2.44 cumulative and -2.71 single maximum. 2002 VU94, however, although then appearing to be more of a looming threat on the 24th (earlier impact solutions, more mass, higher PS ratings), had as yet only had about 30 observations spanning less than 24 days.
      The DOU MPEC for Monday, 25 Nov. reported observations of 2002 VU94 by Stony Ridge Observatory in southern California early on the 24th. And, on the 25th, NEODyS removed VU94 from its Risk page, and Spaceguard dropped VU94 from its Priority List. But VU94 remained on the JPL Risks page with 13 impact solutions. Many of those were within the 2080 NEODyS time horizon, including the May 2039 impactor, now rated by JPL at -2.55 on the Palermo Scale. This, with a cumumlative PS rating of -2.52, dropped VU94 out of JPL's top slot, making 1997 XR2 number one once again.
      Nov. 26th's DOU MPEC reported additional observations of VU94 from early on the 23rd from Kingsnake Observatory in Texas. Also on the 26th, VU94 returned to the Spaceguard's Priority List as a "Low Priority."
      The next DOU MPEC, issued overnight, had no new 2002 VU94 observations at all, but, at mid-day MPC time on the 27th, MPEC 2002-W44 was put out with both new and precovery observations. 2002 VU94 has been found at Spacewatch in images of 29 Nov. 1994, as well as from 9 and 16 Dec. that year. The new observations were from late 26 Nov. 2002 by Pierre Maxted at La Palma. The net result was that JPL was able to remove 2002 VU94 from its Risks page on the 27th.
      (The Maxted observations involved the participation of Andrea Boattini and Germano D'Abramo, who are part of the ANEOPP precovery effort, and help run the European Spaceguard Central Node's observing priority pages.)
      The DOU MPEC for 28 Nov. reported an even earlier precovery, with positions from two Mt. Palomar plates of 4 Sept. 1992. Also on the 28th, VU94 was dropped again from the Spaceguard Priority List. So ended the hunt for 2002 VU94, which now joins the growing collection of kilometer-plus objects which pose no forseeable threat to Earth but also need to be kept under a wary watch.
      The DOU MPEC of 13 Dec. 2002 reports that 2002 VU94 has now been found on Palomar plates from 25 Oct. 1955.

Rate estimate lowered for atmospheric events

An article by Peter Brown et al. in the 21 Nov. journal Nature (420:294-296), "The flux of small near-Earth objects colliding with the Earth," presents an analysis from some 300 atmospheric events observed by U.S. Defense Department satellites and/or U.S. Energy Department infrasound detectors from 1994 to 2002. An average of one five-kiloton explosion a year was experienced, and rates are predicted for one atmospheric explosion per decade around 45 kilotons, an event of one megaton once per century, and an explosion of Tunguska proportions (ten megatons) once per millenium.
Fact check: The information from the scientific paper published in Nature, along with Nature's online report and the University of Western Ontario's news release, has been widely misreported in the general news media (TV, print, etc.) and even on space news sites. Many headlines and some reports based on those three sources say or imply that the overall impact threat from all asteroids has been diminished when, in fact, the only issue addressed was the frequency of atmospheric explosions of large meteors — small objects just big enough to be also called "asteroids."–Ed.

News coverage (newest first)

  • See A/CC's report about using infrasound to study atmospheric events, with more links related to the whole subject area, and A/CC's report about modeling by Alan Harris that also predicts about one Tunguska event per thousand years.

A/CC special report on 2002 VE68

(5 Dec.) Shortly after an MPEC was posted to the Web announcing asteroid 2002 VE68 on 11 Nov., A/CC News put up a special news flash, and we kept the developing story updated in detail. Unlike another recent Aten-type discovery, 2002 RW25, VE68 avoided the NEODyS and JPL risk pages, but it did get special quick-response radar treatment, and the Minor Planet Center has it on its PHA list.
Composite graphic from JPL's 2002 VE68 Orbit Viewer for 14 Nov. 2002.
Credit: BA/C
2002 VE68's orbit
      Early on 11 Nov. (Sunday evening local time), Brian Skiff at LONEOS found a small PHO that spends almost all of its time inside Earth's orbit. 2002 VE68 was announced 14 hours later in MPEC 2002-V52, which includes subsequent observations from Eschenberg Observatory. A slightly inclined orbit was reported with its furthest point from the Sun less than ten lunar distances beyond Earth's own orbit (latest Q=1.02070). JPL's Orbit Viewer demonstrates how VE68 also plays tag with the planet, Mercury.
      Although no alert was posted to the usual Web pages in time for overnight observing 11-12 Nov., the formatted data in the Daily Orbit Update (DOU) of the 12th, MPEC 2002-V53, revealed that this object ("packed" designation K02V68E) was given good attention, getting 28 observations from Begues and Postel observatories in Spain and Italy (see a Begues animation showing VE68's motion on 11 Nov.).
      The European Spaceguard Central Node's Priority List added 2002 VE68 on the 12th as "Urgent," and the next day dropped it to "Necessary" — one notch below Urgent in a system with four rating levels. On the 15th it was dropped one more notch, to "Useful." It was removed on the 18th, and has been on and off again as a "Low Priority" since the 20th. This page reports that VE68 will be visible until Dec. 26th.
      The DOU MPEC 2002-V58 of the 13th, showed an impressive additional 52 positions taken by ten observatories on the 11th and 12th.
      Sky & Telescope issued a 13 Nov. Astro Alert about 2002 VE68 (copy posted on NASA's Solar System Exploration site).
      NASA JPL and its Planetary Radar responded quickly to this fleeting opportunity. Lance Benner's 2002 VE68 Planning page at JPL reported that this object "is within a factor of two of about 300 meters in diameter," and that Ondrejov's preliminary light curve suggests an elongated shape and a rotation of about 12 hours.

2002 VE68 is a strong target at Goldstone and Arecibo early this week, but it cannot be observed at Arecibo because that telescope is configured for other observations. Consequently, Goldstone provides the only opportunity to image this asteroid and utilize radar to improve its orbit until the next close approach in 2010.
      Goldstone observations are scheduled for Nov. 14 and 15 and are possible due to the generosity of the Voyager 1 team and and Dr. Michael Klein, who relinquished telescope time to us. 
      No new optical observations were reported out of the Minor Planet Center on the 14th, so JPL had to plan its first radar run without benefit of positions taken more recently than from late on the 12th UTC. When some newer optical data was communicated to JPL directly from John Rogers (Camarillo Observatory), the planning page says an important problem was discovered in earlier measurements. The radar observations were apparently a success, and DOU MPEC 2002-W18 of 20 Nov. reported four of them from the 14th and 15th.
      Back to optical telescopes, DOU MPEC 2002-V69 of 15 Nov. reported 54 positions from ten observatories taken from late on the 12th to late on the 14th UTC.
      The DOU MPECs of 18, 19, and 21 Nov. reported 15 VE68 positions taken on the 17th from the European observatories Klet, Great Shefford, and Jurassien-Vicques, and five from Volkssternwarte Drebach on the 20th. The DOU of the 22nd reported two positions taken on the 18th from Principia Observatory in Illinois.
      The DOU MPEC for 25 Nov. reported observations made late on the 22nd at Postel Observatory, and early on the 24th at Fitz-Randolph Observatory in New Jersey. The next report came in the DOU MPEC of 27 Nov., with two observations from McDonald Observatory in Texas early on the 26th. Since then, additional observations from the 24th at LONEOS were reported in the DOU MPEC of the 30th.
      The DOU MPEC for 5 Dec. published the most recent observations — from Postel Observatory on the 4th, the first reported from anywhere in eight days, with observing predicted to be posible only until the end of December.
      2002 VE68 has now gone out of view until late in the year 2010, hidden for eight years inside Earth's orbit.

Risk concerns removed during November 2002

Potentially hazardous asteroids removed from the NEODyS and/or JPL risk pages during November 2002: 2002 TB70, 2002 VU94, 2002 VX91, 2002 VX94 & 2002 VY94

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