Old Cat.

Feb. 2003 Asteroid/Comet News

Updated: 8 August 2003
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3 February 2003

A/CC reported 17 Jan. that the long-lost PHO 1978 CA had been recovered by NEAT and followed up by long-time NEO observer Rob McNaught. In fact, although NEAT's short span of observations were made earlier, it was Rob McNaught at Siding Spring in Australia who accomplished the recovery, as Reiner Stoss brought to our attention on 3 Feb. In a message 18 Jan. to the Minor Planet Mailing Listcookies required detailing how he accomplished his difficult, methodical search for 1978 CA, McNaught said that he "was unaware of the NEAT observations and assume they were linked after the report from here."

4 February 2003 has a 4 Feb. article, "How Asteroids Trigger Volcanos." See also the Columbia Univ. 17 Jan. news release.

The report from last September's Workshop on Scientific Requirements for Mitigation of Hazardous Comets & Asteroids was released on 4 Feb. See A/CC's report for download details.

5 February 2003 had a 5 Feb. article about the B612 Foundation's thinking on how to develop strategies to deflect hazardous objects.

2003 BD44's potential hazard assessments were updated 5 Feb. on both the NEODyS and JPL risk monitoring sites following new observations reported on the 5th from Great Shefford and Mallorca observatories on the 4th and 5th. Most importantly, the earlier concern about a September 2003 "virtual impactor" was removed.

6 February 2003

MPEC 2003-C37 of the 6th announces that Mallorca Observatory has recovered 2002 EZ11. This PHO was a top concern on risk monitoring pages during March-April last year.

7 February 2003

The European Spaceguard Central Node posted a 7 Feb. report on its effort regarding 1999 TF211, which was posted to the NEODyS Risk page during 27 Nov.-2 Dec. 2002 under "Lost objects." The report says, "This Apollo-type object is one of the largest NEAs discovered in the last few years (H = 15)." EARN estimates the diameter at 3.5 to 7.7 km. (2.1 to 4.8 miles). See NEODyS for the observing history, with all observations to date coming from LINEAR and LONEOS.

10 February 2003

In Astrobiology Magazine's 10 Feb. article, "Great Impact Debate I: Benefits of Hard Bodies," Clark Chapman notes that, Comets and asteroids . . . provide the most accessible sources of raw materials for use in interplanetary space endeavors — for shielding astronauts from cosmic radiation, for fuel, and even for sustenance . . .  [We] won't have to haul these necessary resources up from the surface of the Earth. (This article is also available at
      The "Great Impact Debate: Part II" appeared 18 Feb. at both Astrobiology Magazine (titled "Much Ado About Nothing?") and (titled "Media Hype"). The "Great Impact Debate III: The Large and the Small" appeared on the Astrobiology Magazine site on the 24th, and on on the 25th as "Nagging Little Problems." And the "Great Impact Debate IV: On a Collision Course for Earth" appeared on the Astrobiology Magazine site on 3 March.
      See also "Great Impact Debate V: Encore," with answers to readers' questions. One of the participants is Benny Peiser, whose Cambridge Conference Correspondence (CCC) for 7 March carries a long critique by Ed Grondine about "how often 'estimates' of the risks to mankind from small and medium impacts of both asteroids and comets are presented as being 'facts,' without any discussion of exactly how those estimates were arrived at, or how reliable those estimates are." And he proceeds to provide discussion about where he sees the problems. In the 14 March CCC edition, Grondine followed up with some optimistic news about improving crater counts and counting.

IAUC 8053, which was made public overnight, reported on mid-infrared observations of C/2001 RX14 (LINEAR) and C/2002 V1 (NEAT) with the 8.2m Subaru telescope on 11 Jan.

12 February 2003

Reiner Stoss on 12 Feb. in an article here on A/CC told about the "C/2003 A2 (Gleason) pre-discovery observations" that were announced on the 8th, and shows new imagery of this comet.

14 February 2003

The Stardust mission status update for 14 Feb. reported that, during one of the previous week's communications sessions, the Deep Space Network took the opportunity to give their new Network Simplification Plan a deep space workout. [This] is an upgrade of hardware and software currently being implemented at the various Deep Space Network ground stations.The demonstration was a success.

17 February 2003

A Southern Methodist University 17 Feb. Geology Department page has very interesting information about infrasound analysis of the Shuttle Columbia disaster. Note how multiple infrasound peaks can be interpreted as refractions of a single explosive event. See A/CC infrasound info and links, including links related to the Columbia investigation.

18 February 2003

The IAU Minor Planet Center Headlines page and IAUC 8075 announced on 18 Feb. the newly discovered satellite, S/2003 (1509) 1, for Main Belt asteroid 1509 Esclangona. William Merline et al. used the European Southern Observatory 8.2m Yepun Very Large Telescope (VLT) with adaptive optics at Paranal Observatory in Chile for three nights earlier this month. Esclangona was discovered by Andre Patry (1902-1960) at Nice, France on 21 Dec. 1938, and was originally designated 1938 YG. NASA ADS has the discovery details scanned from the Jan. 1939 Journal des Observateurs.

19 February 2003

Daniel Fischer has a report in his Cosmic Mirror issue #249 about how "Rosetta faces unpleasant options: not one comet in sight that suits all wishes." Besides several options involving the original target, 46P/Wirtanen, is the possibility of going to 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, for which an observing campaign has already begun.

20 February 2003

The IAU Minor Planet Center on 20 Feb. updated its Discovery Circumstances page, adding 3,495 newly numbered objects, for a grand total now of 55,719. There were also 65 new namings, all for LINEAR-discovered objects, from 14589 Stevenbyrnes (1998 RW79) to 16962 Elizawoolard (1998 QP93).
      Among objects that A/CC has reported about, there are none newly named, but nine newly numbered: 52387 1993 OM7, 52872 1998 SG35, 52975 1998 TF35, 53319 1999 JM8, 54509 2000 PH5, 54598 2000 QC243, 55576 2002 GB10, 55636 2002 TX300, and 55637 2002 UX25.

24 February 2003

Today's MPEC 2003-D16 reports the recovery of 2000 ED14 by Great Shefford and Ondrejov observatories on 23-24 Feb. This object, which is estimated to be on the order of 400 meters/yards wide, was discovered by LINEAR on 4 March 2000 and was last observed optically 11 days later — a day before it flew past Earth at about 15 lunar distances. However, at noon local on 20 March, Arecibo was able to image it with radar inside Earth's orbit. Bring up the JPL Orbit Viewer, set the [Date], center on the object, and zoom in to get an idea of what that alignment was like. See the NEODyS 2000 ED14 page for more info about this object.

MPEC 2003-D14 of 24 Feb. announced what appears to be this year's first amateur-discovered near-Earth object, 2003 DN4, found 22 Feb. by Bill Yeung in Arizona. Yeung is a Hong Kong-born Canadian citizen who lives in the U.S. Southwest and who bagged two of 2002's five amateur-discovered NEOs and one of 2002's five amateur-discovered comets, as well as the apparent Apollo Moon mission relic J002E3. One of his NEOs, 2002 PN, from August 2002 to April 2003 was on both the NEODys and JPL risk pages, a rare place for amateur-discovered asteroids in this age of large automated NEO search programs.
The New Horizons mission put out a 24 Feb. news release announcing an observation campaign to look for more satellites of Pluto. had an immediate report, "Immediate Search Planned for More Moons of Pluto."

25 February 2003 has a 25 Feb. article about how model rocketry in the U.S. will be effectively shut down this coming May in the name of anti-terrorism under the Homeland Security Act. A campaign is being organized to begin soon to try to rectify the situation. See also a 6 March article, and visit the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) for more info.

27 February 2003

Spacewatch, where the unusual comet C/2003 A2 (Gleason) was discovered, has posted a page of Arianna Gleason's discovery and Tom Gehrel's confirmation images from 10 and 13 Jan. 2003.

28 February 2003

Site news: Although it would be two weeks before daily news updates began, A/CC's Major News About Minor Objects page first appeared a year ago on this day.

NEO observing campaigns for 1m+ telescopes

The European Spaceguard's NEO observing campaigns for 1m+ telescopes had a great observing run on the European Southern Observatory 3.58m New Technology Telescope during 29-30 Jan. 2003, with resident astronomer Olivier Hainaut, Spaceguard's Andrea Boattini, and Rene Michelsen observing, plus a team of measurers. The results have been published in February in groups of MPECs that came out on 5, 10, and 11 Feb. for these recovered NEOs, given here in designation order: 1998 ST49, 1999 RC32, 1999 TB5, 2000 AD6, 2001 BP61, 2001 FF7, 2001 SK9, 2002 FA6, and 2002 LW.
      MPEC 2003-C35 on the 6th announced an NEO discovery by the same crew. They first spotted the eccentric, planet-crossing 2003 BH84 on 25 Jan.

First inside-Earth-orbit asteroid

A/CC News Flash at 6:26pm UT 13 Feb.:
Major discovery:   MPEC 2003-C63 of 13 Feb. reports the discovery (by LINEAR on 11 Feb.) of 2003 CP20 with these orbital elements:
semimajor axis (a) = 0.7574240
eccentricity (e) = 0.2911021
perihelion (q) = 0.5369363
aphelion (Q) = 0.9779117
inclination (i) = 25.04642 

At right, 2003 CP20's orbit per the JPL Orbit Viewer on 13 Feb.
2003 CP20 on 13 Feb.
2003 CP20 imaged by OAM 12 Feb. 2003
Brian Marsden notes in the copyrighted MPEC:  This is the first object (apart from Mercury and Venus) with a confirmed aphelion distance Q of less than 1 AU (indeed, less than the earth's perihelion distance of 0.983 AU). . .  The minimum possible distance from the earth is currently 0.19 AU (but passages within 0.05 AU of Venus are occurring).
      The MPEC reports an absolute magnitude of H = 16.3, which, by "rule of thumb," puts this object's width estimate at greater than a kilometer.
      The picture at left is courtesy of Reiner Stoss, who writes: This image is the result of stacking 18 80-sec. frames on the asteroid's motion. The stars are long trails, and 2003 CP20 is the round speck of light at the center. The frames were made between 02:43:36 and 03:20:58 UT on 2003 Feb. 12 with a remote 30-cm. telescope at the Observatorio Astronomico de Mallorca, observers Salvador Sanchez, Jaime Nomen, and Reiner Stoss.
      On 14 Feb., the European Spaceguard Central Node posted 2002 CP20 to its observing campaigns page, saying that further observations are needed both to prove that the orbit is truly interior to that of the Earth, and to make sure that CP20 doesn't pose an impact threat. Fortunately, CP20 is currently "a very easy target to observe for northern astronomers," and will be so "for a few months." The campaign was retired ten days later, with the orbit still calculated to be inside that of Earth.
      Klet observatory has posted a 2003 CP20 image from 14.0 Feb. UT.
      For information about the first object discovered that was thought to have an interior orbit, but was lost before that could be proven, see 1998 DK36.

News coverage

2002 V1 (NEAT) via SOHO on 18 Feb.
2002 V1 (NEAT)'s perihelion passage

At 0849 UT on Feb. 18th (3:49am Eastern), the A/CC News page posted an animation with the 0054 to 0554 UT LASCO C3 frames showing a spectacular solar eruption with C/2002 V1 (NEAT) in view. The next day SOHO released the remaining hourly images with the conclusion of that event, from 0654 to 1254 UT. It is all shown at right as cropped but otherwise unmodified 256x256 frames, courtesy of ESA/NASA's joint SOHO mission.
      On the SOHO recent discoveries chat page, staffer Derek Hammer commented on the 18th that C/2002 V1 "is by far the brightest comet SOHO has observed. It should reach a magnitude of c. -2. [The] previous record holder was the Macholz comet from January, 2002 which peaked at about -0.5. Hyakutake peaked at about 1." (That's 96P/Machholz. See the SOHO Hot Shot of 8 Jan. 2002.)
News coverage

Earlier news
  • SOHO Hot Shot for 12 Feb. with some great stuff about C/2002 V1 (NEAT) and C/2002 X5 (Kudo-Fujikawa) as regards the SOHO SWAN instrument.
  • ESA and NASA/Goddard news releases

"The NEO secrecy flap" flap

It all started out quietly enough, just another round table on the hazards of near-Earth objects. From a Denver meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), EurekaAlert carried a 14 Feb. news release about "Los Alamos researcher quantifies meteor false alarm rate for nuclear test monitoring system" (old news; see A/CC's report). Other meeting news releases came from Rutgers, "Asteroids, panic and planning," and from AAAS itself, "Fact or fiction: What happens after an asteroid collides with Earth?" The same venue overnight had brought wire service reports from Reuters 13 Feb., "Asteroid Tracking Making Progress – Scientists," and UPI 14 Feb., "Scientists see no asteroid threat...yet." And then there was the AAAS meeting program item for "The Asteroid/Comet Impact Hazard: A Decade of Growing Awareness."
      In his Cambridge Conference Correspondence (CCNet) for 15 Feb. posted on 17 Feb., Benny Peiser collected some newspaper articles that resulted from the meeting, with headlines about the suggestion of secrecy, and delivered his own commentary, "Cover-Up Proposal Plunges NEO Community into Crisis of Credibility." He included a correction and response from RAND researcher Geoffrey Sommer, but a slightly different version of his commentary carried by SpaceDaily 17 Feb. left out the background info and response. on 24 Feb. did a lengthy recapitulation over, "Asteroids and Secrecy: If End is Nigh, Do You Want to Know?" Also see David Morrison's 25 Feb. comments and compilation of information, "NEO Impact Symposium & Secrecy Issues."
      See also ABC's 27 Feb. opinion piece (temporary URL), "Some Argue We Should Worry About Incoming Asteroids," CNN's 28 Feb., "If end is near, do you want to know?" and USA Today's 10 March, "Much ado about asteroids."
      Indirectly related was this on 28 Feb. from "Alleged NASA Cover-up of Menacing 'NEAT' Comet Threat is Pure Bunk, Experts Say."
      USA Today had an article on 10 March about "Much ado about asteroids." It briefly recaps the whole secrecy issue, and quotes David Morrison, chair of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group for Near Earth Objects: "We are all committed to open sharing of our results with the world." The general fact of that openness has been pretty well documented in case after case independently reported in these A/CC pages.
      The flap has been over the suggestion by a very few that secrecy should be the policy in the face of an extinction-level event. But something that has gone unmentioned is that there is an existing IAU official policy calling for practical, sensible secrecy until an expedited technical review can be made, and public statement prepared, in regard to any newly calculated impact prediction rated at or above Palermo Scale 0.0, which is a very long way from extinction level.

Information leading to an impact prediction . . . should be transmitted for confidential review to the chair of the IAU Working Group for Near Earth Objects (WGNEO), the President of IAU Division III, the General Secretary of the IAU, and the members of the NEO Technical Review Team . . . before any announcement and/or written document on the subject be made public via any potentially nonprivate communication medium, including the World Wide Web.
However, when it came to the attention of the news media that 2002 NT7 had gone (briefly) PS-positive last year, no IAU statement was provided, and news entities worldwide were left to each sort out the facts on their own, and were collectively blasted for their efforts. A/CC played an unexpected role in this chain of events.
      In the Cambridge Conference Correspondence 14 March edition, astronomer David Tholen advocates that that there should be no reporting about hazardous objects while they are still observable "simply because the short-term potential for new observations results in the short-term potential for revised impact probabilities."

The recovery of 2002 WN5

MPEC 2003-D13 of 24 Feb. announced the recovery of 2001 WN5. This is one you wouldn't want to lose track of, since it sits atop the Minor Planet Center's PHA Close Approaches To The Earth list, with a predicted 26 June 2028 approach to within 0.001745 AU — a little more than half the distance between Earth and Moon.
      2001 WN5 attracted a lot of attention the last time it came around. David Morrison, chair of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) NEO Working Group, reported in his personal NEO E-mail newsletter of 5 Jan. 2002 that WN5 had triggered an IAU technical review in mid-December based on assessments from NEODyS at the University of Pisa and from the JPL dynamics team (see Cambridge Conference Correspondence for 7 Jan. 2002). The JPL NEO Program, with its Sentry software and Current Impact Risks Web pages, wasn't announced until March 2002, but you will find 2001 WN5 on its Removed page as having been pulled on 30 Jan. 2002.
      2001 WN5 was discovered by Brian Skiff at LONEOS on 20 Nov. 2001. A few days after it appeared on the NEODyS Risk page, the European Spaceguard Central Node posted an observing campaign on the 28th. This was updated 20 Dec. to say that all collision solutions had been removed. The campaign was retired on 22 Jan. with a report that credits the many observatories that helped, and concludes that David Dixon at Jornada Observatory and Tim Spahr at Mt. Hopkins had made further observations that "contributed to refine [WN5's] orbit and provide good prospects for recovery in February/March 2003."
      David Dixon told A/CC on 25 Feb. that he picked up an object early on the 23rd of this month that had the potential to be the returning 2001 WN5, but was clouded out the next night. Overnight 23-24 Feb., Campo Imperatore Observatory (Andrea Boattini, et al.) "was able to make observations . . . and confirm the identification securing the recovery. . .  [A good] example of how the collaboration between observatories leads to success."

First stardust grains

A Washington University in St. Louis (WUStL) news release of 27 Feb. says, "Scientists get first close look at stardust." Reuters has a wire story, "Twinkle Little Stardust – Now We Know What You Are," which reports "the tiniest molecules of stellar sand and glass [six of them, collected from the stratosphere, were found to carry] a form of oxygen foreign to the Earth's solar system." (CNN picked up the Reuters story on 3 March.)

Comet dust trails for long-term PHO detection on 27 Feb. had an article from NASA astronomer Peter Jenniskens, who tells about using meteor showers from the dust trails of long-term comets to investigate their orbits. These paths clearly come very close to Earth and thus might pose a difficult future impact hazard. One such object is C/1976 D1 (Bradfield), from which a meteor shower was predicted for the evening of March 1st in the southern hemisphere, but did not materialize. Esko Lyytinen and Jenniskens have a scientific article, "Meteor outbursts from long-period comet dust trails," awaiting publication at Icarus. The preprint is available as a 276Kb PDF from the NASA/Ames Leonids page. reported on 2 March that the previous night's predicted southern hemisphere meteor shower related to C/1976 D1 (Bradfield) did not materialize.

Risk concerns removed during February 2003

Potentially hazardous asteroids removed from the NEODyS and/or JPL risk pages during February 2003: 2003 BB21, 2003 BD44, 2003 BQ35, 2003 CG11 & 2003 CN17

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