Old Cat.

June 2003 Asteroid/Comet News

Updated: 8 December 2003
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4 June 2003

Infrasound, which has become very important to detecting and studying large meteor events, is also part of the investigation of the Shuttle Columbia breakup. The University of Mississippi announced on June 4th the release that week of a report that its National Center for Physical Acoustics (NCPA) made to the U.S. Department of Defense in March. "More analysis will be necessary to determine exactly what the Columbia low-frequency sound data means," but it "discounts" the shuttle "being struck by a meteor or bolide, or lightning." There are reports at the Houston Chronicle 4 June and Atlanta Journal-Constitution 5 June, while the San Francisco Chronicle has a deeper June 5th report.
      West Hawaii Today had a related July 2nd article, "Isle scientist helps NASA with Columbia probe," about Milton Garces of the University of Hawaii's Infrasound Laboratory, and about the Kona infrasound monitoring post.
      U.Miss. withdrew its news release of June 4th (it can be read at SpaceDaily), but has posted the report itself as a 787Mb PDF. See also related earlier A/CC news links here and here.

5 June 2003

Lawrence Livermore National Lab posted a news release June 5th that its physicists "have produced X-ray emissions in a laboratory setting by recreating the conditions that exist when solar winds collide with gases surrounding comets." This was in advance of an article in today's issue of Science, "Laboratory Simulation of Charge Exchange-Produced X-ray Emission from Comets," by Peter Beiersdorfer et al. The news release quotes the lead author as saying, "Next to the Sun, the process we demonstrated here at Livermore makes comets the strongest X-ray emitters in the solar system."

6 June 2003

About last September's Siberian Fireball, Interfax reported June 6th that an expedition had "found an area of about 100 square kilometers covered with burnt trees and pieces of the meteorite" near Mama in the Irkutsk region from last September's fireball. RIA Novosti also had a 6 June report.

10 June 2003

NASA/Goddard had a June 10th news release, "Headless comets survive plunge through Sun's atmosphere," telling about the pair of Sun-diving comets that were the subject of the May 27th SOHO Pick of the Week. Quoting: The tails from a pair of comets survived a close encounter with the Sun, even after the Sun's intense heat and radiation vaporized their heads (nuclei and coma), an extremely rare event. . .  The tail is most likely the dusty remains of the comet's nucleus, being pushed out by sunlight (radiation pressure) after all the ice in the nucleus has evaporated. had a June 18th report.

12 June 2003

Numberings & namings:  The Minor Planet Center updated its Discovery Circumstances page on June 12th with 7,542 new numberings, now topping out at 65,634. The new numberings include the unusual object, 65489 2003 FX128 [link|alt], about which A/CC recently had a precovery news item.
      There are 99 new names, from 5822 Masakichi (1989 WL), discovered by T. Hioki and S. Hayakawa, to 55755 Blythe (1991 TB15), discovered by A. Lowe at Mt. Palomar and now the highest-numbered asteroid that has been publicly named. Other new names include 10253 Westerwald (2116 T-2), 14024 Procol Harum (1994 RZ), and 14941 Tomswift (1995 FY2).
      Other objects that A/CC has reported about that received numbers today are the binary EKBO/Cubewano, 58534 1997 CQ29 [link|alt], and the Damocloid, 65407 2002 RP120 [link|alt].
      MPC last updated asteroid names and added a comet number on May 1st, and last added new asteroid numbers on March 18th. The next namings came on August 6th.

A fireball was observed the morning of the 12th crossing New Zealand skies around 7am local time. There were immediate brief reports at NZCity, the New Zealand Herald, and, noting that no one knew yet whether this was a meteor or reentering space debris. See also an Otago Daily Times June 13th article.

19 June 2003

There was a 19 June article from Tasmania, "Mystery over bright sky light" (seen about 8pm local on the 18th). See also another article from June 19th.

National Geographic had a June 19th report, "Killer Asteroids: A Real But Remote Risk?" It comes out of articles available for purchase in the June 20th issue of Science Magazine, "Extraterrestrial Material—Virtual or Real Hazards?" by Andrea Milani of the University of Pisa and NEODyS in Italy, and "Impact Cratering Comes of Age" by Wolf U. Reimold of the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. The text of the Milani article is included in the Cambridge Conference Correspondence for July 10th, posted on the 14th.
      The same issue of Science also has an article by Jean-Luc Margot and Mike Brown, "A Low-Density M-type Asteroid in the Main Belt." In 2001 they discovered that 22 Kalliope has a satellite (IAUC 7703), and now they have found, as told in the article and explained briefly on Margot's Web site, "M asteroids are thought to be metal rich, but the density that can be derived from the system's orbital motion rules out a metallic composition."
JPL issued a June 19th news release that, "With 198 days before its historic rendezvous with a comet, NASA's Stardust spacecraft successfully completed the mission's third deep space maneuver." The Stardust Status Report of June 20th also tells about the maneuver. See more here about Stardust, comet 81P/Wild 2 [link|alt], and hydrazine.

22 June 2003

Pluto's moon, Charon, was discovered 25 years ago on 22 June by James W. Christy at the U.S. Naval Observatory (USNO) in Washington, D.C. He noticed it while measuring plates from the USNO Flagstaff Station in Arizona, not far from Lowell Observatory, where Pluto itself was discovered 48 years earlier. The USNO put out a celebratory news release on June 20th, and a 1998 USNO news release has pictures. More about Pluto and Charon.

23 June 2003

For those who study and model the surfaces of asteroids — scientists and artists, some of the best available reference photography comes from the tiny moons of Mars, which may be captured asteroids. Malin Space Science Systems, which operates NASA's Mars Global Surveyor Mars Orbiter Camera (MGS MOC), posted "Phobos Over the Martian Limb" on 23 June with a new high-resolution image of Phobos, and also links to earlier images. JPL issued a related news release yesterday.

25 June 2003

The Arizona Daily Sun had a June 25th article, "Officials warn of fake meteorites being sold." The warning comes from Arizona State University's Center for Meteorite Studies.

26 June 2003

The European Space Agency (ESA) on June 26th reorganized its Web presence. The new ESA Space Science "home" page is at From there, for instance, you can choose a link to the Rosetta mission, which turns out to be a Rosetta overview page, where you will find a link to Rosetta's new main Science & Technology site.

The Royal Society posted a news release about an article in the organization's Proceedings, "High-resolution transmission electron microscopy of carbon and nanocrystals in the Allende meteorite," by Peter Harris and R.D. Vis. It reports the "first direct evidence of fullerenes in material originating from outer space," which has important implications for astrobiology and impact theory. ABC Australia has a report today.

27 June 2003

Click for full Stardust animation, 677Kb
On June 27th, A/CC posted a 677Kb "movie" from the November 2nd Stardust flight past Main Belt asteroid 5535 Annefrank. This was the first public display of images from the flyby other than one frame released by JPL the previous November. A/CC's animation (abbreviated version at right) is made from enhanced copies of NASA/JPL still frames that were archived earlier this year at the NASA Planetary Data System Small Bodies Node Web site. See more pictures and info.

29 June 2003

The Louisville, Kentucky Courier-Journal has an article June 29th about a convention of the National Federation of the Blind where astronomy lessons for blind youth were being taught by Noreen Grice and DePaul University astronomer Bernhard Beck-Winchatz. Grice, of the Boston Science Museum, has authored two acclaimed astronomy books in braille with tactile images: Touch the Stars and Touch the Universe: A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy, which received a glowing National Geographic report. On a related note, Ben Wentworth has developed a tactile planetarium and astronomy course at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind. For more about that, see articles at Education World and ABC News. NASA/Goddard put out a related news release on June 30th.

Robotic telescopes & education had a 4 June article, "Automatic Astronomy: New Robotic Telescopes See and Think." For more information on the projects it discusses, visit the RCT Consortium and MONET sites, and see this about GNAT and MOTESS. For more about an XML dialect for using remote-controlled and robotic telescopes, visit the RTML page.
      Two projects that have made remote-controlled telescopes available to students are MicroObservatory (more info) and the presently inactive Student Telescope Network (STN), the subject of an AP article at CNN last year. STN used a fleet of 14" telescopes that are available on a commercial basis at New Mexico Skies.
      Share Your Sky is an MS-Windows-based commercial effort to let observers share their telescopes with each other and with students over the Internet.

TIE & VTIE:  NASA/JPL's Telescopes in Education (TIE) program. Working through grade-school classroom computers around the world, TIE provides students remote access to a Mt. Wilson Observatory 24" telescope that was originally used for studying the lunar surface. The TIE User Guide and Workbook even includes two asteroid and comet projects.
      NASA/GSFC has a Virtual Telescopes in Education (VTIE) site which reports that TIE "has been wildly successful in engaging the K-12 education community in real-time, hands-on, interactive astronomy activities." It says some 20 additional telescopes have been, or are in the process of being, outfitted for remote use as TIE affiliates. VTIE is integrating these telescopes seamlessly into one virtual observatory and will provide the services required to operate this facility.
      A paper by Susan Hoban et al. explaining how VTIE will work is online at the Journal of Digital Information. The process envisioned will have students preparing observational proposals, making the observations, and composing articles about their findings for a VTIE Journal.
Now available: Badlands Observatory, an educational affiliate of the South Dakota Space Grant Consortium, announced May 23rd that it had recently added remote-access capabilities. "Research grade instrumentation will be available very soon to scientists, educators, classrooms, students, and the public."
      Tenagra Observatories sells remote observing time to universities, professional astronomers, and others, but doesn't get the user involved in operations beyond specifying what is to be observed. It also offers pro bono access "to help student and professional researchers who do not have access to telescopes."
      Michael Schwartz at Tenagra told A/CC, We do pro bono work but surprisingly get very few requests. We urge students with projects to contact us. All that we do require is that there is some thinking behind the project towards a scientific result. This does not have to be discovery of new objects, nor something that is to be published.
More info:  See A/CC's report on U.K. robotic telescopes & education. Also, see links about a Japanese consortium that is installing an observatory in Ghana so high school students in Japan can do observing during their local day time.

SOHO on the blink had a June 19th article, "Sun-Watching SOHO Spacecraft Experiencing Serious Technical Problems," and NASA Watch and posted a NASA/GSFC memo on the 18th. reported that, if the antenna problem couldn't be fixed, the SOHO mission wasn't doomed, but the flow of high-resolution images could be impeded, beginning with the spacecraft going into safe mode soon for a period of several weeks. posted SOHO status reports from 19 June and 20 June that said the problem had been minimized.
      SOHO partner ESA issued a news release about the problems on June 20th [withdrawn by ESA, available at with a June 23rd date], and put out another news release June 24th, also issued by NASA.
      In a message to the SOHO-conducted chat about LASCO recent discoveries, Derek Hammer reported on the 25th that observations would not be available for "approximately 20 days out of every three months," beginning on the 25th or 26th. He explained that images had already stopped on the 23rd due to "an EIT bakeout," an event involving the Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT) CCD. posted additional articles 19 June, "Loss of SOHO Could Gut Space Weather Forecasts," 23 June, and "Communication Breakdown: How the Loss of SOHO Could Impact Everyday Life."
      Other reports appeared at BBC and New Scientist on June 20th, the Baltimore Sun June 26th, and Sky & Telescope June 27thcookies required.
      It turned out that science images from SOHO resumed much earlier than expected, beginning, for instance, with a LASCO C3 image time-stamped 1534 on 2 July — the first C3 image since June 23rd. SOHO partner ESA had a news release July 2nd, "SOHO's antenna anomaly: things are much better than expected." It explains that, during the periods when complete blackouts were anticipated, there will instead be just some daily "minor data losses," thanks to various workarounds. There followed reports at 3 July, New Scientist 4 July, and Astrobiology Magazine 6 July.
      On July 14th, Derek Hammer told the LASCO chat page, quoting: Please remember that SOHO is rolled by 180 degrees. Therefore, stars and planets will move from right-to-left and the expected position of our comets will rotate by 180. SOHO will be rolled for probably a few months until it enters the next "blackout" keyhole of its orbit (SOHO moves in a 6 month orbit about the L1 Lagrangian point). The good news is that the expected blackouts will be less dramatic than originally thought.
      ESA announced on July 17th that full normal SOHO operations had resumed three days before, and had a 17 July report.

NEO observatories threatened by fire

On June 20th, A/CC first reported that the Aspen Fire that was currently running out of control in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, Arizona was threatening Steward Observatory facilities according to articles that day at the Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Citizen. On the 22nd we followed up with this extended report, which has had subsequent headline links appended:
      According to various reports, the University of Arizona observatory atop Mt. Lemmon remains closely threatened by the Aspen Fire north of Tucson. Back-burning was done Friday night around the observatory and more is planned, sprinklers were put in yesterday, and more hoses were brought in today. There is concern also for facilities on Mt. Bigelow to the southeast, as reported on local newspaper Web sites. The BBC also had a June 20th article, "Fire threatens Arizona observatory."
      Note that the name, "Steward Observatory," can be used to refer to any of several very different locations. The first Steward Observatory was near, and now within, the city of Tucson, but its original 36" telescope, along with the Steward Observatory name, was moved to Kitt Peak, south of Tucson in the early 1960s. (It is now used by Spacewatch. See news links.) The Tucson location, however, had a smaller telescope installed for student use and continued to be called "Steward Observatory," which has become synonymous with "University of Arizona Department of Astronomy," headquartered there. The department oversees numerous facilities, including two observatories with multiple telescopes in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, and news reports about a "Steward Observatory" in the Catalinas are referring to one or the other. The one fire fighters have been struggling hard to protect is Mt. Lemmon Observatory, and the other, also under some threat, is Mt. Bigelow Observatory. Soldier Camp, mentioned in many fire reports, lies between the two.
      Both observatories have MPC-coded telescopes that have done minor object work, especially Mt. Bigelow with the 61" Kuiper Telescope, also known as Catalina Station, and the Catalina Sky Survey with its 16" telescope. They had flames at their doors with the Bullock Fire only a year ago May (photos). At Mt. Lemmon Observatory, the University of Minnesota Mt. Lemmon Observing Facility (MLOF), a 60" infrared and optical telescope, has been used occasionally for minor object science.
      Concern for the Mt. Bigelow observatories didn't let up until after July 4th. The Arizona Republic reported July 3rd that Mt. Bigelow could be threatened by a flareup, about which an AP wire story had more a day later, published by the Daily Sun and elsewhere. Finally, a July 13th news item reported that the crisis was over.
      An article July 15th told about how the Aspen Fire affected amateur NEO observers in the Tucson area, specifically Tim Hunter and Jim McGaha.

Other info
Here are links for Arizona Daily Star slide shows with pictures, starting with a photo from above Mt. Lemmon Observatory (no telescopes in view), and maps, beginning with a chart showing the relative locations of Mt. Lemmon Observatory and Mt. Bigelow, with June 21st fire boundaries.
      Early this year, fire destroyed Mt. Stromlo Observatory in Australia. See A/CC's news links.

June radar observations

JPL observed [link|alt] by radar from Goldstone on the weekend of 28-29 June, as explained on a radar planning page. MS2 was discovered by Brian Skiff at LONEOS on June 25th and was classified as a potentially hazardous object (PHO) when announced the next day in MPEC 2003-M50. A look at the JPL Orbit Viewer (set Date to 28 June 2003 and Center to "Earth," and zoom in) shows how MS2 was in view high in the northern sky for a very short period, including during the day for radar observation. From its brightness, MS2 is estimated to be about 190 meters/yards wide.
      The 2003 MS2 planning page notes that observation time was being borrowed from scheduling for another PHO, 1998 FH12 [link|alt]. The FH12 planning page tells about observations to be made independently from Goldstone and Arecibo, and it credits a list of ten amateur and professional observatories for "Timely astrometry [that] significantly reduced the pointing, Doppler, and range uncertainties" (see A/CC's Observatories list for links). On June 27th on the Minor Planet Mailing List (MPMLcookies required), JPL's Lance Benner thanked those participants again and reported that "strong images we got at both observatories [June 27th] revealed that 1998 FH12 is a rapidly rotating spheroid with a diameter between 400-500 meters and a rotation period of less than 4 hours."
      1998 FH12 was discovered by LINEAR on 25 March 1998 and announced in MPEC 1998-F29. According to the NEODyS observation tally, FH12 was followed until May 30th that year, and was observed once in May 1999 at Catalina Station, then wasn't reported seen again until NEAT's Hawaiian telescope picked it up on May 28th this year.
      The JPL Close Approach page reported that 1998 FH12 was at 19.5 lunar distances (LD) from Earth yesterday, and 2002 MS2 would be at 9.9 LD on July 2nd.
      Lance Benner told the MPML on the 28th that Goldstone had had partial success, and would try again, at observing 2003 MS2: "Our highest resolution setup, 150 meters/pixel, placed only one pixel on the asteroid, so it's small."
      He also told the list about a 142Kb GIF collage created by Mike Nolan that had been posted showing 1998 FH12 radar images from Arecibo spanning 90 minutes. "The images establish that 1998 FH12 is spheroidal and [imply that it is] close to 500 meters in diameter."
      Nine observations of 1998 FH12 made in daylight on 27-28 June from Arecibo and Goldstone were reported in the June 30th DOU, which also carried three observations of 2003 MS2 made during 3:20-4:20am local on June 28th. The DOU of July 10th reported an observation of MS2 on June 29th and two on July 4th, all in daylight.
      Visit Steven Ostro's Asteroid Radar Research site to learn about using radio telescopes and deep-space communication antennas to observe minor objects.

Risk concerns removed during June

Potentially hazardous asteroids removed from the NEODyS and/or JPL risk pages during June 2003: 2003 EP4 & 2003 KO2

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